GENOA, Italy – Long before the bridge collapse that killed at least 39 people in Genoa on Tuesday, experts raised the alarm that the structure was deteriorating and possibly dangerous — warnings that, after the catastrophe, quickly led to a round of demands to determine who was to blame.
"The Morandi Bridge is a failure of engineering," Antonio Brencich, a professor of engineering at the University of Genoa, said in a 2016 interview with the broadcaster Primocanale, which added that the bridge's deficiencies were evident to many people, not just to experts.
In 2011, a report by Autostrade per l'Italia, the company that operates the highway, warned of "intense decay" of the bridge, which had needed continuous maintenance for years.
In 2012, Giovanni Calvini, then the leader of Genoa's business federation, said that there was a risk of collapse within 10 years — though he said on Tuesday that the statement had not been meant as a prediction, but as "mere provocation" about the need to replace the bridge.
"Alibis are useless because everyone knew," declared a headline in Corriere della Sera, one of Italy's leading dailies, after the bridge collapse.
As the finger-pointing raised the political stakes and the death toll climbed, more than 1,000 rescue workers swarmed over the tangled mass of concrete and steel, searching for survivors who might be trapped in the rubble. The bridge carried the A10 highway, a major artery through the city that officials said would take years to replace, hampering the movement of people and goods from the port city.
The disaster raised new questions about the Five Star Movement, which is part of the governing coalition that took office in June. As members of the opposition, local and national officials of Five Star, including its founder, Beppe Grillo, had opposed plans to expand Genoa's highway network, including building a new bridge, saying that the project would most likely fall victim to corruption. Some Italian news organizations reported that Five Star officials had mocked concerns about the bridge, which opened in 1967.
But on Wednesday, Five Star officials insisted that the opposition to the project had nothing to do with the bridge collapse. Instead, they blamed Autostrade per l'Italia, saying the company had charged heavy tolls but had not invested enough in maintenance.
"When we pay a toll, we imagine that part of that money will be reinvested in the maintenance of bridges and roads," Deputy Prime Minister Luigi Di Maio, the leader of Five Star, told reporters in Genoa on Wednesday. "If instead of investing they divide up profits, that's when bridges collapse."