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Last 2 Towers of Genoa Bridge That Collapsed, Killing 43, Are Demolished

SIENA, Italy — The two remaining towers of a highway bridge in central Genoa that collapsed last year, killing 43 people, were demolished on Friday, clearing the city’s skyline of a grim landmark and preparing for the reconstruction of a vital urban transport link.

The sound of three low, ominous sirens broadcast on national television preceded the detonation.

Experts set a series of controlled explosions that in less than a minute brought down the nearly 300-foot-tall concrete towers that supported the 1960s structure, known as the Morandi Bridge for its designer, the famed engineer Riccardo Morandi. Its collapse last Aug. 14 has become the subject of a criminal inquiry, as well as a symbol of Italy’s failure to maintain its aging infrastructure and of shortcomings in how it has privatized roadways.

More than 1,300 pounds of explosives were mostly packed into the towers’ pylons. Demolition experts had prepared the site by creating lagoons to keep enormous clouds of concrete dust from spreading across the neighborhood.

The top politicians in Italy’s populist government — vice prime ministers Matteo Salvini of the League and Luigi Di Maio of the Five Star Movement — did not miss the chance to be part of the day. They both viewed the momentous demolition from another bridge near the site, surrounded by a swarm of local politicians and authorities.

At dawn on Friday, thousands of Genoese living near the site were taken far from the area by bus. The authorities had detected traces of asbestos in the bridge’s construction material and decided to evacuate 3,500 residents in the area to avoid potential contamination.

“To my knowledge, it is the first time that this kind of work has been done in so little time and in a city center, at least in Italy,” said Vittorio Omini, a demolition expert and owner of one of the companies that engineered the explosion as well as the dismantling of hundreds of feet of bridge deck and pylons that withstood last summer’s collapse.

“We couldn’t wait for this day to come,” said Yosanda Lala, a co-owner of a pizzeria near the so-called red zone, the blocks of apartment buildings adjacent to the bridge, many of which have been partly demolished to allow experts to prepare for the explosion. “We lost the local customers and we are isolated.”

“We can’t even deliver our pizza to the customers on the other side of the river,” he added. “It takes over an hour to get there.”

About 600 nearby residents lost their homes in the collapse and were relocated with the financial support of Autostrade per l’Italia, or Highways for Italy, the private company that operated the bridge.

Many were able to retrieve only a portion of their belongings, aided by firefighters.

“It is a shock that can’t be compensated financially,” said Luca Fava, a former resident in Via Enrico Porro, one of the streets that passed under the bridge. “We had to select among the objects dear to us, go through a lifetime of memories and choose.”

“I forgot my daughter’s bike, but I was so lucky that the firemen allowed me to go back in,” he said. “We live in a different neighborhood and have no desire to return.”

Residents and shopkeepers said the demolition would be just the first step in a long process of returning to normalcy.

“It takes less to demolish and rebuild a bridge than to restart a business that has been so heavily damaged,” said Roberto Pregliasco, the owner of an optician’s store on Via Walter Fillak, now a dead-end street that terminates at barriers to the bridge site. “Or to bring an area back to life.”

Mr. Pregliasco did not qualify for state aid to compensate him for revenues lost after the bridge’s collapse, which largely isolated the Sampierdarena neighborhood.

An emergency decree cut taxes for businesses that lost more than 25 percent of their revenues in the month and a half after the bridge fell. But Mr. Pregliasco said the full impact on his business did not become apparent until the fall, and that his revenues were down by 54 percent in the last three months of 2018.

“We are very worried,” he said. “Some businesses had to shut down. If we can’t break even and still need to pay our employees’ salaries, how are we expected to survive?”

The reconstruction of the bridge, which was kicked off on Tuesday with the first pouring of cement in the presence of Danilo Toninelli, Italy’s infrastructure and transportation minister, is already the subject of a dispute.

The new bridge has been designed by one of the city’s favorite sons, the architect Renzo Piano, and a consortium of Italian contractors have pledged to complete construction in 12 months — a schedule that has drawn much skepticism.

Mr. Toninelli, a prominent member of the anti-establishment Five Star Movement, one of two populist parties in Italy’s governing coalition, has called for the government to revoke Autostrade per l’Italia’s contract to operate the bridge as part of its anti-privatization stance. The company is controlled by the Benetton family, of the global clothing store chain.

Five Star has been trying to persuade its coalition partner, the League, to start the procedure to rescind the license, accusing Autostrade of negligence and blaming a lack of maintenance for the collapse. But the League, which draws support from Italy’s business-friendly northern regions, has been lukewarm.

It would cost an estimated $ 17 billion or more to revoke the company’s contract, officials say. Doing so could also expose the state to a legal challenge.

A trial to determine responsibility for the collapse, which many predict will be a complex and technical legal affair, has not yet been scheduled. Seventy-three people are officially under investigation, all employees of either Autostrade; Spea Engineering, the company that conducted inspections of the bridge; or the two public authorities that have had oversight of the bridge for decades.

Investigative steps taken so far include a detailed report on the condition of the bridge by the Polytechnic Institute in Zurich, and a series of hearings aimed at determining the causes of the collapse.

It will likely be years before judges issue a final verdict, putting names and faces to a disaster that has devastated hundreds of lives and cut Genoa into two.

Source: NYT > World News

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