Genoa’s love-hate relationship with Morandi Bridge is well-known in Italy.
Everyone used it. Everyone needed it. Everyone knew it needed repair.
It was both monument and monster, revered as a point of pride in the collective memory of the city, yet feared as it corroded and crumbled, growing more decrepit and dangerous each year.
Inaugurated with great fanfare in 1967, the Morandi viaduct served as the main east-west artery linking Genoa and the entire southern Mediterranean. It was a key logistics point for trucks loading and unloading containers in Italy’s biggest gateway port and an important interchange point for three motorways: all traffic from Portugal, France and Spain that was headed anywhere in Italy south of Milan passed over the bridge.
But on 11:36 Tuesday morning, August 14th, the towering concrete icon of national pride collapsed into a jagged heap, swallowing carloads of innocent passersby, crushing the dreams of dozens of families and taking down Italy’s collective confidence with it.
“Oh God, Oh God, Oh God,” exclaimed the first eye witness whose video was broadcast around the world. “I feel sick.”
A state funeral of 18 of the victims was held on Saturday, just hours after the bodies of yet another family – mother, father and 9-year-old daughter – were extracted from their car under the rubble, bringing the death toll to 41.
Genoa’s very own “Brooklyn Bridge,” is testament to both human feat and failure, a mountain of concrete shame symbolizing the painful downhill slide from Italy’s post-war miracle years toward its modern era of chronic neglect.
“There was a lack of maintenance by the private company, but also a lack of any alternative from the government,” says University of Genoa Professor of Transport Economics Enrico Musso. “It’s like if you have just one pair of favourite shoes and you wear them and wear them. You can buy another pair and take them to the cobbler for a proper repair, or you can just keep wearing them – but eventually they will break down completely. And then you have no shoes.”
Now Italy is barefoot. Rough estimates of damages to the country’s image, infrastructure and supply chain are in the hundreds of millions, possibly up to half a billion, Edoardo Rixi, undersecretary of transport and infrastructure, told the Telegraph.
“This collapse is a stab in the back of the economy of our country, especially for northern Italy, which was seeing signs of a comeback,” said Mr Rixi, a Genovese-appointed undersecretary with the far-right League party who had himself passed over the bridge shortly before the collapse.
An estimated 3,000 lorries passed over Morandi bridge each day, some bringing perishable goods to and from Italy to France and Spain, and others to load and unload the 2.6 million containers coming in yearly to the two main port terminals, now awkwardly located on either side of the collapsed bridge.
Consumers will not be spared cost hikes. Produce prices will go up in southern France. Lorries carrying refrigerated goods for French supermarket Carrefour will have higher toll and petrol costs in order to stock its stores throughout central and southern Italy.
Tourists will also face inconveniences. Steve Best, a 38-year-old father of three from Norwich, arrived in Genoa just two hours after the collapse, en route to Portofino for their first family trip to Italy.
“We sat in the Volabus for a very long time, didn’t we kids?” he said, nodding to his 12, 10 and 9 year olds. “We saw the bridge as we went by. It’s scary.”
British citizens are Liguria’s 5th most common visitors, with numbers rising by 17 per cent so far this year.
Father and son publicans Stefano Icardi, 74 and Federico Giannoni, 50, depend on that regular influx of British tourists to their English-style pub, the Britannia, in Genoa city.
“People who are supposed to come might think twice due to the chaos and traffic,” said Federico. “We’re worried they might cancel.”
More than 4.2 million people board cruises ships or ferries in Genoa each year, but now anyone arriving in the airport and headed to ferries or seaside areas to the south like Cinque Terre will find themselves stuck in Genoa’s urban traffic with thousands of trucks serving the port and local commuters trying to cross the city.
“Un casino.” A mess, said Nicola Russo, 57, who has been working as a Genoa deliveryman for 30 years.
Asked what the lorry drivers are saying, Mr Russo pauses from unloading fresh mozzarellas to point his thumb and index finger in the sign of a pistol which he raises it to his temple, ironically. “Suicidio,” he said. “It is going to be extremely stressful.”
A spokesman for Ansaldo Energia, a leading international power generation engineering company based in Genoa, said production is temporarily suspended while it assesses damage to one of its warehouses located near collapse and studies how to move parts from its factory to its assembly point at the port.
The dramatic picture of a green delivery truck perched on the precipice of the bridge in the immediate aftermath of its collapse exemplifies the problems that await the regional supply chain.
Ercole Gattiglia, who overseas Basko supermarket logistics, the owners of the lorry, said it will likely cost more to supply their 20 stores in the Liguria region, either for petrol to take the long detour, or in driver labour hours for the extra time it will take to get through snarled urban traffic.
“It is not going to be simple and I fear it could take years for a solution,” Mr. Gattiglia said.
Concerns over slow (or no) response are a common refrain as anger grows over what Italian editorialists call “the absence of state.” The private operators may have failed to properly maintain the bridge (while clearing 2 billion euros in profit in the years it has had the concession), but the record shows government officials from the right and left also failed to heed warnings. And an alternative bypass in Genoa was among the big infrastructure improvements in Italy that the Five Star Movement opposed.
Mr Rixi pledged that the government will act swiftly to rebuild a bridge and possibly revoke the concession to operate the motorway from Autostrade per L’Italia and its parent company, Atlantia, controlled by the Benetton family, for what he called a “lack of social responsibility.”
“Even rescue vehicles and ambulances had to stop to pay tolls at the Genoa motorway exits after the disaster. Have they no shame? For this reason we are taking a hard line,” Mr Rixi said. “Until they show some empathy toward Genoa, the victims and their families and a minimum of responsibility for what has taken place, we are not going to negotiate.”
That tough talk is popular among Italians, who have had to absorb numerous motorway toll hikes recent years, despite deteriorating road conditions.
“Look at me,” said Mr Russo as he pushed a loaded trolley of fresh cheese through the maze of dark, narrow alleys of the old city. “I have to take regular safety courses. Here the little guy and smallest shoppes are super regulated, while those with big economic powers are always untouchable.”
If there is a silver lining, it is that the city whose native son is the world’s most famous navigator – Christopher Columbus – is now forced to modernise as it grows into a strategic Mediterranean port hub
“I am in contact with Marseille and Barcelona and we are trying to understand how we can adjust some of the logistics, “ Paolo Emilio Signorini, president of the port of Genoa authority told the Telegraph. “We are going to have to rethink everything.”