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Anger Mounts, as Rescue Operations Continue at Scene of Italian Bridge Collapse

Cars and trucks are left on a section of the collapsed Morandi highway bridge in Genoa, northern Italy, Aug. 15, 2018.
Cars and trucks are left on a section of the collapsed Morandi highway bridge in Genoa, northern Italy, Aug. 15, 2018.

As hundreds of rescuers sorted through mountains of concrete slabs and other rubble Wednesday in search of more survivors one day after a deadly bridge collapse in Italy, anger mounted over possible design flaws and poor maintenance.

Italian authorities raised the death toll Wednesday to at least 39 after two more bodies were recovered from the wreckage of the fallen section of Genoa's Morandi Bridge. Deputy Prime Minister and Interior Minister Matteo Salvini said three children were among the dead and that more people were still missing.

Mounting concern of additional collapses prompted authorities to evacuate 630 people who live near the highway bridge.

The collapse Tuesday sent dozens of cars plunging 45 meters, while huge pieces of concrete and steel fell onto warehouses in an industrial park below. Authorities said all of the deaths involved drivers on the bridge and no one standing near it was killed.

Italy's Transport Minister Danilo Toninelli cast blame Wednesday on the company that manages the bridge, Autostrade per l'Italia, saying it did not live up to its contract. Toninelli also said the government would launch a nationwide inspection of all aging bridges and tunnels.

"A civilized and modern country such as Italy cannot see tragedies like this," Toninelli said at the scene of the bridge collapse. "It is not acceptable, and those who have failed, have to pay until the very end."

Deputy prime minister Luigi Di Maio accused the private company that manages many of Italy's toll highways of keeping the profits instead of investing them in maintenance.

"When you don't invest in maintenance and you just give the profits to the shareholders, that is when these bridges collapse," said Di Maio, who added he was looking at revoking the tolls.

But bridge management company Autostrade said it relied on "companies and institutions which are world leaders in testing and inspections" to regularly perform detailed checks on the bridge before it collapsed. "These outcomes have formed the basis for maintenance work approved by the Transport Ministry in accordance with the law and the terms of the concession agreement," the company added.

The bridge connected two major highways between Italy and France. It was opened in 1967 and has made engineers uneasy in recent years because of what they said has been its gradual deterioration.

Salvini said Tuesday's disaster shows Italy has to spend more on its infrastructure, even if it means breaking EU budget rules.

"We should ask ourselves whether respecting these limits is more important than the safety of Italian citizens. Obviously for me, it's not," he said.

The bridge underwent renovation in 2016, and more work was scheduled. But Salvini also publicly demanded the names of those he said may be responsible for the disaster.

"They will have to pay — pay for everything, and pay a lot."