Second night of rescue efforts after deadly Italy bridge collapse

Italy’s government blamed the firm that operated the collapsed Genoa bridge for the disaster in which at least 39 people died. (AFP)
Updated 16 August 2018
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Second night of rescue efforts after deadly Italy bridge collapse

  • Italy’s government has blamed the firm that operated the collapsed bridge for the disaster
  • The Morandi viaduct, completed in 1967, spans dozens of railway lines

GENOA, Italy: Rescue workers toiled through a second night Thursday in a desperate bid to find survivors in the rubble of a Genoa bridge which caved in during a heavy rainstorm, killing at least 39 people and injuring 16 more.
A vast span of the Morandi bridge collapsed in the northern port city on Tuesday, sending about 35 cars and several trucks plunging 45 meters (150 feet) onto railway tracks below.
Italy’s government has blamed the firm that operated the collapsed bridge for the disaster and announced a state of emergency in the region.
Children aged eight, 12 and 13 were among the dead, Interior Minister Matteo Salvini said, adding that more people were still missing. Sixteen people were injured.
Three Chileans, who live in Italy, and four French nationals were also killed.
The tragedy has focused anger on the structural problems that have dogged the decades old Morandi bridge and the private sector firm Autostrade per l’Italia, which is currently in charge of operating and maintaining swathes of the country’s motorways.
Deputy prime minister Luigi Di Maio said the tragedy “could have been avoided.”
“Autostrade should have done maintenance and didn’t do it,” he alleged.
Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte also confirmed that his government would push to revoke the company’s contract for the A10 motorway, which includes the bridge, while Transport Minister Danilo Toninelli said the company should be fined up to €150 million ($170 million).
The firm, which said the bridge had been undergoing maintenance work, however, released a statement refuting accusations of underfunding of motorway infrastructure.
“In the last five years (2012-2017) the company’s investment in the security, maintenance and strengthening of the network has been over one billion euros a year,” it said.
Survivors recounted the heart-stopping moment when the bridge buckled, tossing vehicles and hunks of concrete into the abyss.
Davide Capello, a former goalkeeper for Italian Serie A club Cagliari, plunged with his car but was unscathed.
“I was driving along the bridge, and at a certain point I saw the road in front of me collapse, and I went down with the car,” he told TV news channel Sky TG24.
As cars and trucks tumbled off the bridge, Afifi Idriss, 39, a Moroccan truck driver, just managed to stop in time.
“I saw the green lorry in front of me stop and then reverse so I stopped too, locked the truck and ran,” he said.
While around a dozen apartment blocks that stand in the shadow of the viaduct were largely spared the impact of the falling concrete, the Liguria regional government said some 634 people had been evacuated.
Interior Minister Matteo Salvini said the homes would have to be pulled down.
The incident is the latest in a string of bridge collapses in Italy, a country prone to damage from seismic activity but where infrastructure generally is showing the effects of a faltering economy.
The Morandi viaduct, completed in 1967, spans dozens of railway lines.
The bridge has been riddled with structural problems since its construction, which has led to expensive maintenance and severe criticism from engineering experts.
On Tuesday engineering website “Ingegneri.info” called it “a tragedy waiting to happen.”
Conte also announced after a cabinet meeting Wednesday that a national day of mourning was being planned. Media reports said it would be held on Saturday to coincide with some of the funerals.
There would also be a 12-month state of emergency in and around Genoa, Conte added, with five million euros of funds going into recovery work.


Priyanka standoff ends with visit to victims’ families

In this handout photo taken and released by the All India Congress Committee (AICC) Communication Department on July 19, 2019, Indian politician Priyanka Gandhi Vadra (2L) meets Sonbhadra massacre victims at the Banaras Hindu University (BHU) Trauma Centre in Varanasi. (AFP)
Updated 21 July 2019
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Priyanka standoff ends with visit to victims’ families

  • Priyanka Gandhi’s protest continued throughout Friday night while she demanded the right to visit the victims’ families

NEW DELHI: A political standoff over detained Congress leader Priyanka Gandhi ended on Saturday after she was allowed to meet relatives of 10 people killed in a caste clash in the eastern Indian state of Uttar Pradesh.
The Congress general secretary and sister of outgoing party president Rahul Gandhi was detained in Mirzapur on Friday while traveling to Sonbhadra to visit family members of 10 people shot and killed in a land dispute a day earlier.
The Bhartiya Janata Party (BJP) government in Uttar Pradesh, led by Yogi Adityanath, detained Gandhi for violating the peace and stopped her from traveling further. The Congress leader then began a sit-in protest with her supporters at the Mirzapur guest house where she was held.
Her protest continued throughout Friday night while she demanded the right to visit the victims’ families. Television images showed Gandhi sitting in the dark after power and water supplies in the guest house were allegedly cut off by the local administration.
Her presence in the area, which also falls in Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s constituency in Varanasi, galvanized Congress workers who staged protests across the state.
Early on Saturday, relatives of some of the victims visited the guest house to meet the 47-year-old leader of the Gandhi-Nehru family, India’s pre-eminent political dynasty.
“My objective has been served as I have met the victims of the shooting,” said Gandhi before calling off her protest.
“The responsibility for the Sonbhadra massacre lies with the Yogi government,” she said.
Gandhi told her supporters, “I will be back,” before flying to New Delhi.
The BJP has accused the Congress leader of playing politics over the shootings.
“Congress has a history of playing politics over dead bodies,” said Swatantra Dev Singh, BJP president in Uttar Pradesh.
“The drama should stop. That is what I will say to Priyanka. All the accused have been arrested, and the officials responsible have been suspended,” he said.
The fatal shootings in Sonbhadra, 800 km southeast of New Delhi, drew mainstream media attention only when the Congress leader arrived in the state.
Observers say that the killing of 10 socially marginalized and landless tribes people by members of the dominant caste has highlighted the fragile caste situation in India’s most populous state.
The people of Gond tribe have been working the disputed land for generations. According to reports, the village head wanted tribes people to vacate the farm land. This led to conflict, and on Friday more than 200 armed men attacked the helpless villagers, killing 10 and injuring several others.
Gandhi, who entered politics only a few months before the general elections in May this year, seized the opportunity to connect with the people.
For the BJP, Uttar Pradesh is the jewel in the crown. The state gave the party 62 of its 303 parliamentary seats, and it is determined to maintain its political grip.
Political analysts say that Gandhi is determined to revive the Congress party in Uttar Pradesh by 2022 when the state goes to the polls.
“Priyanka Gandhi handled the Sonbhadra incident in a mature way, exposing the ham-fisted attitude of the Yogi government,” said Nilanjan Mukhopadhyay, a New Delhi-based analyst and author.
“She also managed to expose the BJP’s class bias  and how the ruling party is protecting the interests of  dominant caste in the state,” said Mukhopadhyay.
“This incident gives the party a chance to go back to the people immediately after the huge loss in the elections,” Mukhopadhyay told Arab News.
Lucknow-based political analyst Ram Dutt Tripathi said that Gandhi has “shown her courage as a political leader willing to fight administrative injustice.”
“Her detention was illegal and the Congress has high hopes that she can lead the revival of the party,” said Tripathi.
“It is unfortunate that the state Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath has not visited relatives of the victims so far and is putting restrictions on political opponents who want to stand with them,” he said.