GENOA, Italy (AP) — With a rainbow as a backdrop, Italy’s president inaugurated a replacement bridge Monday in Genoa, but families of those killed when the Morandi Bridge collapsed boycotted the ceremony along with the firefighters who pulled many of the 43 dead from smashed cars and trucks.
Two years ago this month, a stretch of the Morandi Bridge suddenly gave way in a violent rainstorm, sending vehicles plunging to the dry riverbed below. The new structure — a key artery for the northwestern Italian port city — was erected thanks to round-the-clock construction, even during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Rain drenched the new bridge, stopping just before the ceremony which started with a recitation of the names of the dead. Renowned architect Renzo Piano designed the bridge to evoke a ship’s bow, to honor his native city’s proud maritime history. The span has 43 lamps in memory of the collapse victims.
Traffic will start crossing San Giorgio Bridge, named after St. George, a saint popular in Genoa, on Wednesday.
“We are suspended between grief” over the tragedy and “pride for the construction of the new bridge,” Piano, told his fellow Genoese in a speech.
The families of the dead are upset that the company which maintained Morandi Bridge will still run the new structure for a while more — even though poor maintenance is being investigated as a possible cause of the collapse.
“No one can give us back our dead,” Egle Possetti, who leads an association of the bridge victims’ families, told Italian news channel Sky TG24.
Possetti, who lost a sister and other family members in the collapse, said she hoped attention would stay focused on the ongoing criminal investigation into the collapse.
Speaking before the ceremony with relatives of the people killed in the collapse, President Sergio Mattarella said he agreed with their decision to meet with him privately and not during the ceremony on the bridge.
The replacement bridge doesn’t cancel out what happened in Genoa, Mattarella said.
“On the contrary, I see it, in good part, as a kind of memorial stone that recalls the victims,” he said.
The president added that he shared the families’ quest for justice. “Responsibility isn’t generic. It always has a first name and surname,” Mattarella said, calling for “severe, precise, rigorous action to ascertain responsibility.”
During the ceremony, Mayor Marco Bucci had words for those who lost loved ones in the collapse. “This must never happen again,” the mayor said.
Nine Italian air force jets flew in formation over the bridge, trailing smoke in the red, white and green colors of the country’s flag.
Firefighters who extracted survivors and bodies from tons of twisted metal two years ago also boycotted the ceremony in solidarity with the families, Sky TG24 reported.
Prosecutors are probing what caused Morandi Bridge to collapse on Aug. 14, 2018, on the eve of Italy’s biggest summer holiday.
Riccardo Morandi, the engineer who designed the bridge built in the 1960s, had recommended continual maintenance to remove rust, especially from the corrosive effect of sea air in the Mediterranean port city, and pollution’s toll on concrete.
Prosecutors have said they are investigating to see whether proper maintenance was consistently carried out over the years on the heavily used span.
Earlier this summer, the Italian government forged a deal in which the Benetton fashion family agreed to exit Autostrade per l’Italia, the company that manages and maintains many of Italy’s highways and bridges. Its highway concession had included Morandi Bridge. But that exit will take some time, as Autostrade becomes a public company under the deal and pays 3.4 billion euros ($4 billion) in compensation.
D’Emilio reported from Rome.