Fury clouds funeral plans for Italy bridge victims

Remi BANET
1 / 6
Authorities plan a state funeral service and mass for the dead on Saturday at a hall in Genoa, coinciding with a day of mourning

Grieving relatives wept over the coffins of dozens of victims of Genoa's bridge disaster Friday amid growing fury over a planned state funeral, while rescuers pressed on with their tireless search for those missing in the rubble.

The collapse of the Morandi bridge, a decades-old viaduct that crumbled in a storm on Tuesday killing at least 38 people, has stunned and angered the country, with Italian media reporting that some outraged families would shun Saturday's official ceremonies.

Italy's government has blamed the operator of the viaduct for the tragedy and threatened to strip the firm of its contracts, while the country's creaking infrastructure has come under fresh scrutiny.

Authorities plan a state funeral service on Saturday at a hall in Genoa, coinciding with a day of mourning.

Relatives who gathered at the hall on Friday embraced and prayed over lines of coffins, many adorned with flowers and photographs of the dead.

But according to La Stampa newspaper, the families of 17 victims have refused to take part, while a further seven have yet to decide whether they will attend.

"It is the state who has provoked this; let them not show their faces, the parade of politicians is shameful," the press cited the mother of one of four young Italians from Naples who died.

The father of another of the dead from Naples took to social media to vent his anger.

"My son will not become a number in the catalogue of deaths caused by Italian failures," said his grieving father, Roberto.

"We do not want a farce of a funeral but a ceremony at home."

- Search for missing -

Despite fading hopes of finding survivors, rescue workers said they had not given up as they resumed the dangerous operation to search through the unstable mountains of debris.

"Is there anyone there? Is there anyone there?" one firefighter shouted into a cavity dug out of the piles of concrete and twisted metal, in a video published by the emergency services.

The civil protection service said Friday evening they were searching for five missing people -- down from 10-20 thought to be missing on Thursday.

Hundreds of rescuers are using cranes and bulldozers to cut up and remove the biggest slabs of the fallen bridge, which slammed down onto railway tracks along with dozens of vehicles.

"We are trying to find pockets in the rubble where people could be -- alive or not," fire official Emanuele Gissi told AFP.

Officials say about 1,000 people in all are working on the disaster site, 350 of them firefighters.

- Grief and anger -

The populist government has accused infrastructure giant Autostrade per L'Italia of failing to invest in sufficient maintenance and said it would seek to revoke its lucrative contracts.

Interior Minister Matteo Salvini demanded the company offer up to 500 million euros ($570 million) to help families and local government deal with the aftermath of the disaster.

The dead also include children, one as young as eight, and three Chileans and four French nationals.

- Infrastructure alarm -

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.

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.

Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte said Autostrade "had the duty and obligation to assure the maintenance of this viaduct and the security of all those who travelled on it."

The disaster is the latest in a string of bridge collapses in Italy, where infrastructure generally is showing the effects of a faltering economy.

Senior government figures have also lashed out at austerity measures imposed by the European Union, saying they restrict investment.

But the European Commission said it had given Rome billions of euros to fix infrastructure.

burs/bmm/har/amu