Major Highway Bridge Collapses in Italy


Dozens have been reported dead and more injured after the collapse of a 200-meter (656-foot) section of the prestressed concrete Morandi Bridge in Genoa, Italy, on Tuesday (Aug. 14).

Authorities currently suspect that structural weakness caused the collapse, though witnesses also noted severe weather at the time of the incident. Traffic was also likely heavier than normal due to Ferragosto, a major Italian holiday. During the incident, vehicles fell onto rail tracks, buildings and a river running underneath. Rescue efforts were still underway as of Wednesday morning.

What Happened

Eyewitness Pietro M all'Asa said that, just after 11:30 a.m. local time, lightning struck the bridge. Another unnamed witness said that they heard “an incredible roar,” thinking that it was just thunder nearby. Traffic was disrupted, and the “city was paralyzed.” A heavy thunderstorm was reported at the time of the incident, with recorded 35-mile-per-hour winds, and a gulf now divides two sections of the bridge.

Authorities say that it’s unlikely anyone was under the bridge at the time of the incident. Roughly 30 cars and several heavy-duty trucks were on the section of span that failed. As of Tuesday afternoon, the toll stood at 22 dead and eight injured, but according to estimates there could be as many as 35 dead as a result of the collapse.

The Morandi Bridge carries the A10 highway. Eyewitness Davide Richie reported that the central pylon “crumbled, then the rest came down.”

Bridge Design and History

The cable-stayed concrete bridge, known as the Polcevera Viaduct and was completed in 1968, was designed by Italian civil engineer Riccardo Morandi. According to website Retrofutur, the bridge is characterized, as are other Morandi structures, by thin prestressed concrete girders and relatively few stays. Three A-shaped concrete pylons hold four prestressed stays apiece. The website has chronicled numerous projects over the years to reinforce the structure, including steel sheaths over the concrete pylons. 

Another Morandi-designed bridge with a similar architecture, the General Rafael Urdaneta Bridge, in Venezuela, suffered a partial collapse in 1964 when a gasoline tanker ship struck it. 

At the time of the collapse, maintenance was reportedly underway to consolidate sections of the bridge, and a crane had been installed to assist with the work. Autrostrade, owned by a motorway operator controlled by Atlantia, was carrying out the work, which involved strengthening the road foundations of the span. A separate rehabilitation project was completed in 2016.

“The works and state of the viaduct were under constant monitoring and supervision,” the company said. “The causes of the collapse will be thoroughly investigated as soon it is be safe to access the site.”

"The Morandi bridge connects three major ports in our country, used by tens, even hundreds of thousands of people,” said governor of the Liguria region, Giovanni Toti. “They depart from these ports on holiday. These docks receive most of our country's imported goods. It damages the very structure of the Italian logistics system. We are expecting a very fast response from the government."

Italy spent more than 14 billion euros ($16 billion) on infrastructure in 2006, but that amount dropped to less than 4 billion euros a year by 2010.

Editor's Note: Corrected the date of the collapse.


Tagged categories: Accidents; Bridges; EU; Europe; Fatalities; Health & Safety; Health and safety; Infrastructure

Join the Conversation:

Sign in to our community to add your comments.