The alarming photo before bridge collapse that killed 39

Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte centre visits the site

The Italian port city of Genoa began two official days of mourning Wednesday amid an urgent search for survivors of a catastrophic bridge collapse that has claimed at least 39 lives, including three children, authorities said.

A truck is blocked at the end of the collapsed Morandi highway bridge in Genoa, northern Italy, Wednesday, Aug. 15, 2018.

An overtaking auto had forced FL to slow down but when he saw that same vehicle drop off the edge of the freeway, he immediately managed to slam on his brakes. "Miracles can happen", he said.

The incident, the deadliest of its kind in Europe since 2001, 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.

Lending support to the website was Antonio Brencich, a professor of reinforced concrete construction at the University of Genoa, highlighting the constant maintenance the bridge needed.

Engineering experts, noting that the bridge was 51 years old, said corrosion and weather could have been factors in its collapse.

"We saw a man running and making a sign to everyone to leave", she said.

Those on the Morandi bridge who managed to reach safety have recounted the horrifying moment they ran for survival.

He also said the government would inspect the structure of ageing bridges and tunnels across the country with a view to launching a program of remedial works if required.

Pope Francis sent his condolences to the victims, saying the tragedy has "caused desperation among the population".

Pierami, an engineer, had driven over the bridge many times before.

Luigi Di Maio, the deputy prime minister and leader of Five Star, the senior partner in Italy's populist coalition government, told reporters Tuesday: "If this bridge was risky then Autostrade should have closed it a long time ago".

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"Our infrastructure is aging at a point where we have structurally deficient bridges that we know about... depending on the environment you can have components corrode".

Among the structures at risk was the Magliana Bridge in Rome, between the city centre and the capital's busiest airport, Fiumicino, he said.

But the head of the civil protection agency, Angelo Borrelli, said he was not aware that any maintenance work was being done on the bridge.

Local authorities initially cited heavy storms as partly to blame for the disaster but on Tuesday evening Italy's Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte announced that authorities were working on the theory of "structural failure".

"In the last five years (2012-2017) the company's investment in the security, maintenance and strengthening of the network has been over €1 billion [$A1.5 billion] a year", it said.

While the cause of the Morandi bridge collapse in the northern port city is now under investigation, there has been widespread debate over the state of the country's infrastructure in general in recent years.

Twitter/Google Maps/Business InsiderWhat the Morandi Bridge looked like before and after the collapse.

"The causes for the collapse will be the subject of an in-depth analysis as soon as it is possible to safely access the site".

The motorway bridge, which opened in 1968, is a major highway for residents and tourists in the city of Genoa.

Autostrade insisted that the bridge had been "constantly monitored" and refuted accusations that it had not invested enough in maintenance. "Everyone from Genoa crossed the bridge".

Notwithstanding the importance of a road that sees 25 million vehicles pass along it every year, the demolition of the bridge was being studied as far back as 2009.

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