Europe 1 with AFP // Photo credits: Marco SABADIN / AFP 16:51 pm, October 04, 2023

On Tuesday night, at least 21 people died and many more were injured in Venice when a bus fell off a bridge and caught fire. The precise circumstances of the accident are not yet known. Even if the preferred hypothesis is that of a driver's discomfort, the poor maintenance of the road network in the peninsula is also once again debated.

The city of Venice decreed Wednesday a mourning of three days, in shock, the day after the fall from the top of a bridge of a tourist bus, which left 21 dead including two children, a tragedy reviving the controversy over the often deplorable state of infrastructure in Italy. The precise circumstances of the accident are not yet known. Even if the preferred hypothesis is that of a driver's discomfort, the poor maintenance of the road network in the peninsula is also once again debated, while the country remains traumatized by the collapse of the Genoa road bridge in 2018, which killed 43 people.

>> LISTEN - Italy: Bus falls from bridge in Venice and catches fire, at least 21 dead

The vehicle broke down the bridge safety rail

In addition to a three-day mourning, Venice Mayor Luigi Brugnaro ordered flags to be flown at half-mast on official buildings. Books of condolences were also made available to those wishing to express their sadness "for the immense tragedy that has struck the city". The crashed bus, which usually operates regular urban routes, had been rented by a private company to transport about forty foreign tourists. They had just visited the historic center of the Serenissima on the lagoon and returned to their campsite on dry land, shortly after 19:30 pm.

For an as yet undetermined reason, the vehicle broke through the safety rail of the bridge and fell ten meters, crashing below near a railway track between Mestre and Marghera, two localities that are part of the municipality of Venice.

Fall of ten meters

"The bus overturned. The impact was terrible," said Venetian fire chief Mauro Luongo. Boubacar Toure, a 27-year-old labourer from Gambia working on a construction site next to the crash site, told reporters he helped firefighters rescue passengers. "I extracted three or four people, including a little girl, and also a dog. The driver was already dead," he said. The wreckage of the bus, an all-electric Chinese E12 Yutong model, was removed at dawn.

The fire chief explained that "among the difficulties encountered was the fact that the bus was electric and therefore had batteries. Unfortunately, they caught fire on impact." But a local fire official, interviewed Wednesday by AFP on condition of anonymity, assured that there was nothing to say that the presence of burning electric batteries had slowed down the rescue.

Investigators are still trying to identify victims who did not carry identity documents, including cross-checking with the records of the campsite where they were staying. The still provisional toll is 21 dead, including a one-year-old child and a teenager, and 15 injured, five of them in serious condition, confirmed at midday the prefect of Venice Michele di Bari at a press conference.

Among the dead identified, "are 5 Ukrainians, an Italian who is the driver, a German," he said. "Among the wounded, who are 15 in number, there are four Ukrainians, a German, a Frenchman, a Croat, two Spaniards," and "four have yet to be identified." Kiev reported four Ukrainians killed and four wounded. "The wounded are all young (...) and all foreigners. Their relatives are gradually arriving at the hospital in their countries of origin," said an emergency doctor, Federica Stella, who participated in the rescue.

"Tragedy foretold"

The main hypothesis for the moment is that the bus driver, a 40-year-old Italian, was taken ill, according to local authorities. A video taken from a camera of the public monitoring network seems to rule out the track of a speeding, the bus running normally before falling.

For Domenico Musicco, president of the Association of Victims of Road Accidents at Work, the condition of the road is clearly in question. "This is a tragedy foretold," he told AFP. "This rail is made for a country road whereas here we needed new generation equipment that could have prevented the bus from falling." "The maintenance of Italian roads is poor. Too little investment is being made in road safety. It is estimated that 30% of accidents are due to this," he said. The worst accident of its kind in Italy to date occurred on July 28, 2013 when a bus carrying about fifty Italian passengers fell from a viaduct near Naples, killing 40 people.