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Anger rises over Genoa bridge collapse as death toll increases to at least 39

The bridge in Genoa which collapsed during a violent storm, sending vehicles plunging 150ft below. Picture: Luca Zennaro/ANSA via AP
Paolo Santalucia and Frances D'Emilio, Associated Press

TWO more bodies have been pulled out of tonnes of rubble after a bridge collapsed in Genoa, raising the death toll in the disaster to at least 39 people.

The collapse of the Morandi Bridge sent dozens of cars and three trucks plunging as much as 150ft to the ground.

Many Italian families were on the road ahead of Wednesday's major summer holiday, Ferragosto.

Civil protection authorities confirmed 39 people died and 15 were injured. Interior minister Matteo Salvini said three children were among the dead.

Rescuers and sniffer dogs are continuing to search through tonnes of concrete slabs and steel for survivors or bodies.

Two Albanian men were killed in the collapse, named by authorities as Marjus Djerri and Edi Bokrina.

Three French nationals were also said to have died, with local media reporting that the two young women and a man from Toulouse had travelled to Italy for a music festival.

Investigators are also working to determine what caused a 260ft long stretch of highway to break off from the 150ft high bridge in the north-western port city.

Italian politicians, for their part, are trying to determine who is to blame for the tragedy.

The 1967 bridge, considered innovative in its time for its use of concrete around its cables, had long been due for an upgrade, especially since the structure saw more heavy traffic than its designers had envisioned.

One expert in such construction, Antonio Brencich at the University of Genoa, had previously called the bridge "a failure of engineering".

An unidentified woman who was standing below the bridge told RAI state TV that the structure crumbled as if it were a mound of baking flour.

Engineering experts, noting that the bridge was 51 years old, said corrosion and weather could have been factors in its collapse.

The Italian CNR civil engineering society said structures dating from when the bridge was built had surpassed their lifespan.

It called for a "Marshall Plan" to repair or replace tens of thousands of Italian bridges and viaducts built in the 1950s and 1960s, adding that simply updating or reinforcing the bridges would be more expensive than destroying and rebuilding them with new technology.

Mehdi Kashani, an associate professor in structural mechanics at the University of Southampton in the UK, said pressure from dynamic loads, such as heavy traffic or wind, could have resulted in "fatigue damage" in the bridge's parts.

Italy's minister of transportation and infrastructure, Danilo Toninelli, said there was a plan pending to spend €20million (£15.7m) on bids for significant safety work on the bridge.

Mr Toninelli, from the populist Five Star Movement, threatened in a Facebook post that the state, if necessary, would take direct control of the highways agency if it could not properly care for roads and bridges.

In 2013, some Five Star MPs had questioned the wisdom of an ambitious and expensive infrastructure overhaul programme as possibly wasteful, according to reports, but a post about that on the movement's site was removed on Tuesday after the bridge's collapse.

Within hours of the collapse, Mr Salvini was vowing not to let EU spending strictures on Italy, which is laden with public debt, stop any effort to make the country's infrastructure safe.

Genoa is a flood-prone city and officials have warned that the debris from the collapse must be removed as soon as possible.

Some of the wreckage landed in a dry riverbed that could flood when the rainy season resumes in a few weeks.

Pope Francis has led prayers for the victims in St Peter's Square, saying: "I am especially thinking of all those tried by the tragedy in Genoa yesterday, which caused victims and a sense of loss in the population."

He expressed his "spiritual closeness" to the victims, the injured and their families and the hundreds of people who were forced to flee homes in the area.

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