GENOA, Italy | Italian leader demands safe roads; bridge toll rises to 42

GENOA, Italy | Italian leader demands safe roads; bridge toll rises to 42

GENOA, Italy — Italy’s president demanded guarantees Saturday that all the nation’s roads are safe following the Genoa highway bridge collapse, after he comforted mourners at a state funeral for many of the dead in the grieving port city.

Hours earlier, the toll from Tuesday’s bridge collapse rose unofficially to 42, with the reported discovery of four more bodies amid the tons of broken concrete that fell from the city’s key artery, the Morandi Bridge.

Before the ceremony began in a pavilion on Genoa’s fairgrounds, President Sergio Mattarella offered quiet words of comfort for families of the victims before taking his place with other Italian leaders, including Premier Giuseppe Conte and the transportation and infrastructure minister in the cavernous pavilion hall.

Families of 19 of the dead had their loved ones’ coffins brought to the hall for the funeral Mass led by Genoa’s archbishop, Cardinal Angelo Bagnasco.

Among the coffins were those of two young Albanian Muslim men who lived and worked in Italy. Their remains were blessed at the end of the Catholic service by a Genoa imam, who drew applause when he prayed for God to “protect Italy and all Italians.”

At other funerals elsewhere in Italy on Friday, angry mourners blamed authorities of negligence and incompetence for failing to keep the bridge safe.

During the state funeral, applause rang out and many fought back tears as a prelate read out the first names of some 30 victims who have so far been identified. The mourners also applauded for Italian firefighters, police and volunteers for the civil protection department as they arrived for the funeral.

Mattarella toured what’s left of the Morandi Bridge, which broke apart in a fierce rainstorm, sending a long stretch of roadbed crashing 45 meters (150 feet) into a dry river bed and near several apartment buildings. Those buildings have been evacuated and local authorities have said they will have to be demolished.

Mattarella didn’t speak at the funeral, held on a national day of mourning, but after the ceremony ended, he told reporters the bridge collapse “is an unacceptable tragedy.”

He called the funeral “a moment of grief shared grief by all of Italy united in this state of mind.”

He demanded that “responsibility be ascertained with rigor” for the collapse of the bridge, which linked two major highways, one leading to Milan and the other toward France.

Prosecutors say they are focusing their probe on possible design flaws or inadequate maintenance of the highway bridge, which was completed in 1967.

“I, too, have traveled over this bridge many times, even recently,” said Mattarella, demanding that authorities commit to carrying out their “duty to guarantee the safety of our roads.”

The mood at the state funeral was subdued, although families voiced exasperation that public infrastructure isn’t safe.

“These are mistakes that keep on repeating. And now, for the umpteenth time, angels have flown into heaven and paid for mistakes of other human beings, severe mistakes,” said one mourner, a local man who would only give his first name, Alessandro.

He held a placard that read: “In Italy, we prefer ribbon-cuttings to maintenance” of infrastructure.

In his homily, the cardinal said the tragedy “gashed the heart of Genoa.”

“The initial disbelief and then the growing dimension of the catastrophe, the general bewilderment, the tumult of emotions, the pressing “Whys?” touched us yet again and in a brutal way showed the inexorable fragility of the human condition,” Bagnasco said.

He encouraged citizens to show solidarity so “we can build new bridges to walk together” and rise above the tragedy. Bagnasco told the mourners that Pope Francis had called him Friday evening to express closeness to all those suffering.

Attending the Mass were players and managers of the city’s two major league soccer teams, Genoa and Sampdoria. Their weekend matches were postponed out of respect for the dead.

The names of the dead were placed on each coffin before the altar.

Photographs, flowers and on one coffin a signed sports jersey, a small sports trophy and a stuffed animal added personal touches.

Players from a local team in Serie D soccer, Campi Corniglianese, came to pay tribute to one of their own.

Among the two Albanian dead was Marius Djerri, 22, who played for the team and was on the way to work for a cleaning company along with his compatriot when their truck plunged into the abyss.

Team president Augustus Pintus recalled him as “a golden boy.

Maybe not the strongest player on the pitch, but as a person, I would like all players to be like him.”

Italian RAI state radio said Saturday that the body of a 30-year-old man had been found — believed to be the last person missing in Tuesday’s disaster.

A few hours earlier, the bodies of an Italian couple and their 9-year-old daughter were found in their smashed car under a big block of concrete, the Italian news agency ANSA said. Relatives said the family from northern Italy had been driving to catch a ferry for the island of Elba for their vacation.

RAI said authorities now believe there are no more missing in the bridge collapse after a German man called officials to say he wasn’t involved in the disaster.

By FRANCES D’EMILIO and PAOLO SANTALUCIA , Associated Press