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Road bridge in north Italy collapses, two suffer minor injuries

MILAN (Reuters) - A bridge on a normally busy provincial road in northern Italy collapsed on Wednesday but, with virtually no traffic due to the coronavirus lockdown, only two truck drivers suffered minor injuries, the fire brigade said.

A spokesman for the fire brigade said the 260 metre bridge on the SS330 road near the town of Aulla, roughly midway between Genoa and Florence, in the northern tip of Tuscany, collapsed at 1025 local time (0825 GMT).

Although casualties were limited in Wednesday’s incident, it highlights the poor state of repair of Italy’s road network, after the collapse of a motorway bridge in the port city of Genoa in 2018 that killed 43 people.

Helicopter views of the area of the latest accident showed sections of the bridge crossing the river Magra had collapsed to the level of the water, buckling a stretch of road behind it.

The lockdown to halt the spread of the coronavirus meant that heavy midweek traffic that might normally have been using the bridge was absent and only two vehicles were involved.

The two drivers were taken to hospital with minor injuries, a fire brigade spokesman said.

A fire brigade team helped by dogs inspected the debris of the concrete bridge, dating back to 1908 and rebuilt after World War Two, but did not find any other vehicles.

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The bridge used to be managed by provincial authorities before being put under the management of ANAS, a company controlled by state-owned railway group Ferrovie dello Stato.

The infrastructure has undergone periodic safety controls since 2019, ANAS said in a statement, adding it had formed an ad-hoc group to find out the causes of the collapse.

Transport Minister Paola De Micheli, who said ANAS had been operating the bridge since 2018, said the ministry had set up a committee to investigate the incident and draw up a report in 30 days.

The poor maintenance of Italy’s roads and bridges and mismanagement of its highway network has been a major political issue since the collapse of the bridge in Genoa, which was operated by infrastructure group Atlantia.

Following the 2018 disaster, the government has repeatedly threatened to strip Atlantia of its motorway concession and to hand over to ANAS responsibility for operating the highways currently run by the infrastructure group.

Atlantia and the government are now in talks to try to resolve the dispute over the concession, two source told Reuters on Monday - a deal that could unlock billions of euros of investments planned by the group for the network.

Italy needs to press ahead with a plan to modernize its infrastructure, Nicola Zingaretti, head of the ruling coalition centre-left PD party, said.

The road involved in Wednesday’s incident had been repaired after bad weather in November.

Giulia Segreti reported from Rome, Francesca Landini from Milan, Editing by Alison Williams and Emelia Sithole-Matarise