Lloyd Burr: On the ground in Genoa

We arrived into Genoa at 2am on Wednesday, just over 14 hours since its biggest bridge and landmark collapsed catastrophically during a storm.

The weather had changed completely by the time Newshub cameraman Simon Morrow and I drove into the city via a number of detours.

It was the clearest of nights and it was very still. No storms. No lightning. No rain.

Vehicles lie crumpled on the ground below.
Vehicles lie crumpled on the ground below. Photo credit: Newshub.

Police cordons had been erected at every possible entrance into the valley beneath the Morandi Viaduct, but we managed to talk our way in to film from a safe distance.

When the bridge first came into view, the first thing that took me back was its sheer size. It's big. And it's really high above the valley floor. It dominates the landscape.

It spans more than 1km from one side of the valley to the other, apart from a 200m length in the very middle which lies broken and crumpled on the ground below.

Genoa bridge
Dozens died when the structure collapsed. Photo credit: Newshub.

Huge industrial sport lights had been installed to assist the hundreds of rescue workers drilling, digging, and cutting through the rubble. Their sounds echoing around the valley.

It was a surreal feeling standing there in the pitch black and looking at the scene before us. Cars and trucks mangled, their occupants normal Italians who were at work, or on holiday at the time the road disappeared from beneath them.

Genoa bridge
With a long-questioned design, there had been numerous plains to demolish and replace it - but cost got in the way. Photo credit: Newshub.

The next day, I started to get a sense of the disbelief felt by the locals. People had died, yes - but so had their bridge.

Many of them took to the hills in order to get a glimpse of their city's 'Brooklyn Bridge'. It was the only way to see it because police had blocked off every road in the valley below.

Old men stood there with binoculars, and would walk away shaking their heads. Others sat with their dogs looking at the scene, contemplating what had just happened to their quaint seaside city. Couples embraced as they looked down on the shattered city artery.

Emergency staff at the scene in Genoa
Emergency staff at the scene. Photo credit: Newshub.

One man stood there and just people-watched. His name was Paolo Colombo, and the death of the bridge had hit him hard. It opened to traffic the day after he was born in 1967.

He invited us to his Mamma's house where he grew up, and took us onto the roof which had an incredible view of the bridge. It's where he used to admire the structure as a child, a teenager, and as an adult. He's taken hundreds of photos of it over the years.

Paolo said he came up onto the roof and just cried and cried when he was told the bridge had fallen down, as he felt a part of him had fallen down too.

After 'Mamma' had watered and fed us, Paulo took us into an abandoned apartment right next to the pier of the bridge that hadn't collapsed. It provided a heartbreaking view over the disaster site.

Trucks and cars lay flattened where they'd fallen. Others had been piled up by the rescue workers driving diggers.

We could see the row of tents that was likely a temporary morgue next to the site, and we saw rescue helicopters coming and going.

Genoa bridge
The bridge was opened to much fanfare in 1967. Photo credit: Newshub.

Standing in that building, on the sixth floor and looking out at the site of the disaster was incredibly moving and poignant.

Not far from that building was a massive police cordon which prevented residents living near or under the pier from going to their homes. Authorities deemed the risk of another collapse too high and red-zoned the area.

Hundreds of newly homeless residents stood and sat helplessly on the street. None of them were angry. Frustrated, yes. But not angry.

The city is in a state of shock but the way residents are handling the ordeal is inspiring. Locals are friendly and patient. Police officers are polite and helpful.

In the face of such heartbreaking adversity, the small Italian seaside city is showing its best side.

Lloyd Burr is Newshub's Europe correspondent.