GENOA, Italy: Grief gripped the Italian city of Genoa on Saturday as thousands of mourners attended a state funeral to commemorate the victims of a bridge disaster that has sparked anger, while rescuers pulled more bodies from the wreckage.
Large crowds packed inside an exhibition hall turned into a makeshift chapel where coffins adorned with flowers and photographs were lined up.
There was long applause as a priest read out the names of the 38 official dead and also paid respect to the latest victims discovered inside a car under debris early Saturday.
Local media reported that the bodies were those of a family of three, including a nine-year-old girl.
“The Morandi bridge collapsed has pierced the heart of Genoa. The pain is deep,” Archbishop Angelo Bagnasco said during the mass.
Italian President Sergio Mattarella and Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte presided over the service, which coincided with a national day of mourning.
“I lost a friend but I came for all the victims,” Genoa resident Nunzio Angone told AFP.
The populist government has blamed the operator of the viaduct for the collapse and threatened to strip the firm of its contracts.
Among the coffins was a small white one for the youngest victim, an eight-year-old boy who was killed alongside his parents as they prepared to catch a ferry to the holiday island of Sardinia.
Another two coffins were draped in the Albanian flag featuring a black eagle against a red background.
“I don’t know those who have died in the bridge collapse but I wanted pay my respects regardless. This shouldn’t have happened,” Genoa resident Claudio Castellaro, 73, told AFP.
‘Farce of a funeral’
Applause erupted as firefighters entered the hall ahead of the ceremony.
There was also loud clapping for co-deputy prime ministers Matteo Salvini and Luigi di Maio, two key figures in Italy’s new populist government who have led angry tirades against Autostrade per L’Italia, the managing company of the highway.
Mourners also included the city’s two football squads, Genoa and Sampdoria, who have postponed their weekend matches.
But more than half of the families of the victims refused to take part, some preferring a more intimate funeral, while others announced a boycott.
“It is the state who has provoked this; let them not show their faces, the parade of politicians is shameful,” the press cited the mother of one of four young Italians from Naples who died.
Roberto, father of another of the dead from Naples used social media to vent his anger: “My son will not become a number in the catalogue of deaths caused by Italian failures.”
“We do not want a farce of a funeral but a ceremony at home.”
State of emergency
Local media reports said senior staff of Autostrade had planned to attend to the funeral. The company was expected to hold a press conference on Saturday afternoon.
The government has accused Autostrade of failing to invest in sufficient maintenance and said it would seek to revoke its lucrative contracts.
Salvini, who is also interior minister, demanded that the company offer up to 500 million euros ($570 million) to help families and local government deal with the aftermath of the disaster.
The dead also include children, three Chileans and four French nationals.
The Morandi viaduct dates from the 1960s and has been riddled with structural problems for decades, leading to expensive maintenance and severe criticism from engineering experts.
Its collapse prompted fears over ageing infrastructure across the world.
Italy has announced a year-long state of emergency in the region.
Autostrade, which operates and maintains nearly half of Italy’s motorways, estimates it will take five months to rebuild the bridge.
It denies scrimping on motorway maintenance, saying it has invested over one billion euros a year in “safety, maintenance and strengthening of the network” since 2012.
Atlantia, the holding company of Autostrade which is 30 per cent owned by iconic fashion brand Benetton, has warned that the government would have to refund the value of the contract, which runs until at least 2038.”
Government officials were set to join a police meeting in Genoa to discuss contingency measures for the city, which has been split in two.