Shattered lives after Genoa bridge tragedy

Vincent-Xavier MORVAN, Remi BANET
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More than 600 people evacuated from apartments under the shard of unscathed bridge face uncertainty about when, if ever, they will be allowed to live in their homes again

When huge slabs of Genoa's most famous bridge suddenly crashed to the ground carrying cars and trucks with them, people living in the shadow of the crumbling structure thought they were in the grips of a natural disaster.

"I was at home and all the buildings were shaking, worse than in a huge earthquake," said 86-year-old Pasquale Ranieri, who lives in a five-storey building under the Morandi bridge.

Dozens of people were killed when a vast span of the viaduct fell away late Tuesday morning without warning, crashing onto railways lines far below and killing dozens.

While the buildings under the viaduct were largely spared the impact of the falling concrete, more than 600 people evacuated from apartments under the shard of unscathed bridge face uncertainty about when, if ever, they will be allowed to live in their homes again.

"I stayed with my family last night but this is going to last months and months. I want to go home," said Ranieri, who was worried about his food rotting now that his electricity was cut off.

Going home to recover belongings was still impossible on Wednesday, while Genoa's mayor Marco Bucci said the surviving stretch of bridge may have to be torn down -- and the homes underneath may not be protected.

"There is a risk that the houses are taken down," he said.

Rescuers were scouring the mountainous piles of rubble searching for victims on Wednesday, as the toll rose to 39 with others still missing.

Frozen at the edge of a yawning precipice, a single green truck sits next to the edge of the surviving stretch of bridge, having halted just seconds from disaster.

- 'It is a scandal' -

At the security perimeter encircling the endangered buildings, two police officers stand guard, refusing to bow to the pleas of the dozens of inhabitants who have been desperate to go home since dawn.

Grazia Pistoro, a frail 83-year-old wearing just a thin leopard print blouse, was pleading to be able to collect clothes from her apartment.

"I didn't sleep, I haven't eaten," she said.

"There are also people who need to get medicines."

The Liguria regional government said some 632 people have been evacuated, with around a dozen buildings affected.

Bruna Millaci's apartment is just outside the security perimeter.

"Yesterday I went shopping at the mall when I heard people talking about the collapsed bridge", the 53-year-old translator said.

"I dropped everything and ran back in the rain to see if my two cats were still alive and the building was standing up, I was very scared."

Anger is growing as authorities struggle to explain the cause of the sudden collapse of the decades old bridge, which has been dogged by structural problems, as the government blamed the company in charge of motorways for the disaster.

"I can't tell myself that this is real, I still feel like this is a movie," said Francesco Bucchieri, 62, who watched the disaster unfold.

"There has been negligence, they underestimated the danger... we need to find the culprits, it is a scandal, the guilty must pay!"