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Second night of rescue efforts after deadly Italy bridge collapse

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Genoa (Italy)  |   Rescue workers toiled through a second night today in a desperate bid to find survivors in the rubble of a Genoa bridge which caved in during a heavy rainstorm, killing at least 39 people and injuring 16 more.

A vast span of the Morandi bridge collapsed in the northern port city on Tuesday, sending about 35 cars and several trucks plunging 45 metres (150 feet) onto railway tracks below.

Italy’s government has blamed the firm that operated the collapsed bridge for the disaster and announced a state of emergency in the region.

Children aged eight, 12 and 13 were among the dead, Interior Minister Matteo Salvini said, adding that more people were still missing. Sixteen people were injured.

The driver of a green lorry left precariously close to the edge told Italian media how he had escaped the “hell” of the bridge collapse.

“It was raining very hard and it wasn’t possible to go very fast,” he told the Corriere Della Sera daily.

“When a car overtook me I slowed down… (then) at a certain moment everything shook. The car in front of me disappeared and seemed to be swallowed up by the clouds. I looked up and saw the bridge pylon fall,” he said.

“Instinctively, finding myself in front of the void, I put the van into reverse, to escape this hell,” he added.

Three Chileans, who live in Italy, and four French nationals were also killed.

The tragedy has focused anger on the structural problems that have dogged the decades-old Morandi bridge and the private sector firm Autostrade per l’Italia, which is currently in charge of operating and maintaining swathes of the country’s motorways.

Deputy prime minister Luigi Di Maio said the tragedy “could have been avoided”.

“Autostrade should have done maintenance and didn’t do it,” he alleged.

Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte also confirmed that his government would push to revoke the company’s contract for the A10 motorway, which includes the bridge, while Transport Minister Danilo Toninelli said the company should be fined up to 150 million euros ( 170 million).

The firm, which said the bridge had been undergoing maintenance work, however, released a statement refuting accusations of underfunding of motorway infrastructure.

“In the last five years (2012-2017) the company’s investment in the security, maintenance and strengthening of the network has been over one billion euros a year,” it said.

Survivors recounted the heart-stopping moment when the bridge buckled, tossing vehicles and chunks of concrete into the abyss.

Davide Capello, a former goalkeeper for Italian Serie A club Cagliari, plunged with his car but was unscathed.

“I was driving along the bridge, and at a certain point I saw the road in front of me collapse, and I went down with the car,” he told TV news channel Sky TG24.

As cars and trucks tumbled off the bridge, Afifi Idriss, 39, a Moroccan truck driver, just managed to stop in time.

“I saw the green lorry in front of me stop and then reverse so I stopped too, locked the truck and ran,” he told AFP.

While around a dozen apartment blocks that stand in the shadow of the viaduct were largely spared the impact of the falling concrete, the Liguria regional government said some 634 people had been evacuated.

Interior Minister Matteo Salvini said the homes would have to be pulled down.

The incident is the latest in a string of bridge collapses in Italy, a country prone to damage from seismic activity but where infrastructure generally is showing the effects of a faltering economy.

The Morandi viaduct, completed in 1967, spans dozens of railway lines.

The bridge has been riddled with structural problems since its construction, which has led to expensive maintenance and severe criticism from engineering experts.

On Tuesday engineering website “Ingegneri.info” called it “a tragedy waiting to happen”.

Conte also announced after a cabinet meeting Wednesday that a national day of mourning was being planned. Media reports said it would be held on Saturday to coincide with some of the funerals.

There would also be a 12-month state of emergency in and around Genoa, Conte added, with five million euros of funds going into recovery work.

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Brexit Woes

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With just six weeks remaining before United Kingdom’s (UK) exit from the European Union (EU) termed as Brexit, Theresa May’s government does not seem to be making much progress and her opponents seem to be calling her out on this front. As Europe’s biggest crisis in decades stares it in the face and Britain, once its biggest and most powerful constituent seems to the on the ropes, the entire world is watching.

UK’s PM Theresa May suffered yet another blow from her parliament as legislators voted against her renegotiated deal with the EU. Just weeks after renegotiating the deal with European Union after MPs in the lower house voted 317 to 301 to order her to seek new terms with the bloc, she again failed to sell the deal to her parliament who on Thursday voted 303 to 258 against the motion. This paves the way for a no deal Brexit situation as the March 29st deadline is fast approaching. A no deal Brexit could have disastrous consequences for Britain in terms of loss of business, loss of jobs and not to mention the impact it can have on the pound.

For Britain to negotiate a successful Brexit deal, UK PM Theresa May must reach an agreement with the European Union and then get the same deal passed through her Parliament. Many in May’s own government do not view her as a strong leader and hence do not seem to be supporting her actions with opposition Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn urging May to “admit her Brexit strategy has failed”.  May, however, shrugged off the latest defeat and termed it as a temporary difference of opinion and seems to be confident her strategy would see the light of day.

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China decries ‘political manipulations’ behind Huawei case in US

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Beijing | China on Tuesday decried the “political manipulations” behind the US case against Huawei as Washington indicted the tech giant’s chief financial officer and levelled sweeping charges against the company.

“For some time, the US has used state power to discredit and crack down on specific Chinese companies in an attempt to strangle the enterprises’ legitimate and legal operations,” China’s foreign ministry said in a statement.

“There are strong political motivations and political manipulations behind the actions.”

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PAK, UAE sign USD 3 billion bailout package

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Islamabad | Pakistan and the United Arab Emirates (UAE) on Tuesday signed a USD 3 billion bailout package, as part of Abu Dhabi’s support to boost the cash-strapped country’s dwindling dollar reserves.

The UAE in December last year had announced to provide USD 3 billion financial assistance to Pakistan after Saudi Arabia made a similar commitment to help Islamabad successfully overcome international payment crisis and to avoid a stringent International Monetary Fund (IMF) deal.

Tuesday’s agreement was signed between State Bank of Pakistan (SBP) chief Tariq Bajwa and Abu Dhabi Fund for Development (ADFD) Director General Mohammed Saif Al Suwaidi.

“UAE has formalized US$3bn deposit in the State Bank of Pakistan. DG ADFD & the Governor SBP inked the agreement at #ADFD Headquarters in Abu Dhabi,” Foreign Office spokesman Mohammad Faisal tweeted.

He said the agreement will help Pakistan achieve financial stability and overcome economic challenges and noted ADFD’s support over the years to stimulate Pakistan’s economic growth and sustainable development.

Speaking on the occasion, Suwaidi said, “The directive to deposit USD 3 billion with the State Bank of Pakistan aligns with the UAE leadership’s keenness to bolster Pakistan’s economy, help its government achieve financial stability and overcome economic challenges, and drive comprehensive development in the country.”

He added, “ADFD and the Government of Pakistan have enjoyed strong and long-standing ties dating back to 1981. The Fund’s efforts have significantly contributed to improving socio-economic conditions in the country, boosting strategic growth and achieving the development priorities of the Pakistani government.

To date, ADFD has provided AED1.5 billion to fund sustainable development projects in Pakistan spanning diverse sectors, including transport, water and agriculture, healthcare, and education, according to a press release.

The UAE had committed the financial assistance during Prime Minister Imran Khan’s visit to Qatar last month to seek investment and provision of LNG on deferred payments.

Pakistan has a 15-year contract with Qatar for a supply of LNG.

The Saudi and the UAE governments have played a major role in helping Pakistan to meet around USD 12 billion shortfall in balance of payments in 2018-19 fiscal year, government officials said.

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