Worker remove rubble from the partially collapsed Morandi bridge in Genoa, Italy, yesterday. Italian authorities, worried about the stability of remaining large sections of the bridge, evacuated about 630 people from nearby apartments. Picture : Luca Zennaro/AP/ANSA

Italian rescue workers used jackhammers and cranes to lift giant slabs of concrete from the Genoa bridge collapse, hoping to find survivors buried in the rubble of the disaster that killed at least 38 people.
A fire held up part of the operation in the early morning, sending up clouds of smoke before being extinguished. A spark from metal-cutting equipment was thought to have caused the blaze in a warehouse under the ruined bridge.

But then the more than 300 firefighters who have been working non-stop since Tuesday resumed their task. As many as 20 people are still unaccounted for, Genoa’s chief prosecutor said.

Chances of finding survivors appear to be slim. Vehicles on the highway that links the port city to the French border plummeted 50m when a 200m stretch collapsed on Tuesday. Firefighters, who are using sniffer dogs as well as heavy machinery, have not yet reached all the cars.

“We are trying to find points where we can penetrate these incredibly heavy slabs. Then the earth-moving equipment moves in to create a passageway where the dogs can enter,” firefighter Stefano Zanut said.

Rescuers were hoping the large chunks of debris may have created a “triangle of survival” when they fell, where someone could still be alive.

About 600 people have had to leave their apartments below the remaining spans of the bridge for fear of further collapse. They will be demolished as officials said it would be too dangerous to leave them there. The government has said alternative housing would be found.

A state funeral for many of the victims is due to be held today, led by the city’s archbishop, Cardinal Angelo Bagnasco, and attended by President Sergio Mattarella and Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte. But some families plan to boycott the event and hold their own private services, in protest against what they say was the negligence that caused the bridge to collapse.

An engineering study commissioned by toll-highway operator Autostrade per * ’Italia last year warned about the state of the bridge’s concrete-encased cable stays, Italian newspapers reported.

Autostrade has said it monitored the bridge on a quarterly basis, as required by law, and carried out additional checks by hiring external experts.

The government has declared today a national day of mourning - Reuters