Funerals held for victims of Genoa bridge collapse but deep anger remains

The populist government has blamed the operator of the viaduct for the collapse and wants to strip the company of its lucrative contracts

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 18 August, 2018, 10:54pm
UPDATED : Saturday, 18 August, 2018, 10:54pm

Thousands of mourners attended a state funeral in the Italian city of Genoa to bid a solemn farewell to victims of a bridge collapse that has sparked nationwide anger, while rescuers pulled more bodies from the rubble.

Large crowds packed inside an exhibition hall turned into a makeshift chapel where coffins adorned with flowers and photographs were lined up, although the families of some victims shunned the state event.

“I lost a friend but I came for all the victims,” said local resident Nunzio Angone.

Italian President Sergio Mattarella and Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte presided over the hour-long Catholic service, which coincided with a national day of mourning.

The fire service said the confirmed death toll from Tuesday’s disaster now 39, with several children among the victims.

There was long applause as a priest read out the names of the dead and also paid respects to the latest unnamed victims discovered inside a car under debris early Saturday.

Local media reported that the bodies were those of a family of three, including a nine-year-old girl.

“The Morandi bridge collapse has pierced the heart of Genoa. The pain is deep,” Archbishop Angelo Bagnasco said during the mass.

Solemn chants then rang out as an imam led prayers for two Muslim victims.

His presence was particularly poignant in a staunchly Catholic country, where the far-right is now in power and which has seen a rise in attacks on foreigners.

The populist government has blamed the operator of the viaduct for the collapse and wants to strip the company of its lucrative contracts.

A visibly shaken Mattarella spoke of an “unacceptable tragedy”.

“Everyone who has come here in recent years has gone over that bridge. I have travelled along that bridge many times too, also recently,” he said, vowing to carry out a “rigorous investigation” into the accident.

Following the funeral, the government was set to chair an emergency meeting in Genoa. Meanwhile, Autostrade per L’Italia, the infrastructure giant that operated the highway, announced it would hold a press conference.

The Morandi bridge collapse has pierced the heart of Genoa. The pain is deep
Archbishop Angelo Bagnasco

Relatives of victims comforted each other as they huddled around each of the 19 caskets.

Among the coffins was a small white one for the youngest victim, an eight-year-old boy who was killed alongside his parents as they prepared to catch a ferry to the holiday island of Sardinia.

The dead also include three Chileans and four French nationals, while 10 people remain in hospital.

“I don’t know those who have died in the bridge collapse but I wanted pay my respects regardless. This shouldn’t have happened,” said Genoa resident Claudio Castellaro, 73.

Applause erupted as firefighters entered the hall ahead of the ceremony.

There was also loud clapping for co-deputy premiers Matteo Salvini and Luigi di Maio who have led angry tirades against Autostrade. But more than half of the families of the victims refused to take part, some preferring a more intimate funeral, while others announced a boycott.

“It is the state that has provoked this; let them not show their faces, the parade of politicians is shameful,” the press quoted the mother of one Italian victim as saying.

Roberto, father of another victim, used social media to vent his anger: “My son will not become a number in the catalogue of deaths caused by Italian failures. We do not want a farce of a funeral but a ceremony at home.”

The government has accused Autostrade of failing to invest in sufficient maintenance.

Salvini, who is also interior minister, has demanded that the company offer up to 500 million (US$570 million) to help families and local government deal with the aftermath of the disaster.

The Morandi viaduct dates from the 1960s and has been riddled with structural problems for decades, leading to expensive maintenance and severe criticism from engineering experts.

Its collapse prompted fears over ageing infrastructure across the world.

Italy has announced a year-long state of emergency in the region.

Autostrade, which operates and maintains nearly half of Italy’s motorways, estimates it will take five months to rebuild the bridge.

It denies scrimping on motorway maintenance, saying it has invested over one billion euros a year in “safety, maintenance and strengthening of the network” since 2012.

Atlantia, the holding company of Autostrade which is 30 per cent owned by iconic fashion brand Benetton, has warned that the government would have to refund the value of the contract, which runs until at least 2038.