Italy hunts for blame in bridge collapse that killed 39

As more bodies were pulled on Wednesday from a mountain of jagged concrete and twisted steel left by a highway bridge collapse that killed 39, prosecutors focused on possible design flaws and past maintenance of the heavily used span, and politicians squabbled over blame.

Motorists, meanwhile, recounted miraculous escapes and the horror of seeing others plunge over the edge.

As a second night descended on the site where part of the Morandi Bridge plunged some 45m, Interior Minister Matteo Salvini declined to say how many people might still be buried in the debris where about 1 000 rescue workers searched for victims.

The collapse occurred about 12:00 on Tuesday, the eve of Italy's biggest summer holiday, when traffic was particularly busy on the 51-year-old span that links two highways - one leading to France, the other to Milan - from this north-western port city.

READ: Death toll hits 39 in Italy bridge collapse; blame begins

Salvini declined to say how many people are still missing, and he added that trying to locate them was particularly difficult, due to the holiday.

"It's not easy to distinguish between who doesn't respond because they are on the other side of the world and turned off their phone to relax" on vacation, and "who's not responding because they are under the rubble", he said.

Flood-prone city

He said he hoped the death toll would not rise.

"Miracles are still possible," Salvini said.

Authorities urged the quick removal of tons of debris from a dry river bed so that the rubble doesn't create a makeshift dam if heavy rains fall in the flood-prone city on the Mediterranean.

Debris also must be cleared from railroad tracks, a vital link especially now that Genoa is largely cut in half by the loss of such a key artery, Premier Giuseppe Conte said.

Authorities worried about the stability of remaining large sections of the bridge, prompting a wider evacuation order and forcing about 630 people from nearby apartments, some practically in the shadow of the elevated highway. 

Firefighters went inside some of the vacated apartments briefly to retrieve documents and, in at least one home, pet cats.

Building a new bridge could require razing the evacuated buildings, said Transportation and Infrastructure Minister Danilo Toninelli.

After leading an emergency Cabinet meeting in Genoa, Conte said there were 39 confirmed dead and 16 injured, including nine in serious condition. Three children were among those killed, Salvini said.

The dead included four French citizens traveling to a music festival and two Albanians.

Genoa Prosecutor Francesco Cozzi told reporters the investigation into the collapse was focused on human causes, specifically any possible design flaws in the bridge's construction or any inadequate maintenance.

He said he didn't know who might be responsible, but added: "It wasn't an accident."

Asked if authorities had any warning that the bridge could be dangerous, Cozzi indicated that no serious safety concerns had reached his office before the collapse.

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