Clouds of white smoke from the fire held up part of the operation on Friday, Aug. 17, as Italians prepared to bury the 38 victims of the disaster.
A spark from metal-cutting equipment may have caused the blaze in a warehouse under the fallen bridge.
Officials said there still may be up to 20 people missing after a 660-foot stretch of the bridge collapsed on Tuesday, Aug. 14, though the official death toll remained at 38.
‘Triangle of Survival’
Firefighters lifting away the rubble said they had not given up hope of finding someone alive three days after the collapse.
Rescuer Stefano Zanut said there was a “triangle of survival” where rubble or beams form a protective cover.
“We are working in synchronization with earth-moving equipment and sniffer dogs,” Zanut told Reuters at the site.
“We are trying to find points where we can penetrate this incredibly heavy rubble. Then the earth-moving equipment moves in to create an opening from where the dogs enter,” said Zanut, one of some 340 firefighters working shifts at the scene since Tuesday.
Over 600 people had to leave their homes below the spans of the bridge that remained standing over fears they could also collapse. Officials have said the buildings will be demolished as it’s now too dangerous for people to stay there.
However, the government has declared Saturday a national day of mourning, with the funeral being televised live by state broadcaster RAI, who said there will be no advertising as a sign of respect for the victims.
Study Warned of Problems
Last year, an engineering study warned about the concrete-encased cable stays that held up the bridge, Italian newspapers La Stampa and Repubblica reported.
Experts said the bridge had problems soon after it was completed in 1967 and some of the stays were reinforced in the 1990s.
The study by engineers at Milan’s Politecnico university was published in November 2017 and found that the stays of the section of the bridge that later collapsed reacted to vibration “in a way that does not entirely conform with expectations and requires further investigation.”
The study said the anomaly in the stays’ reaction may have been linked to corrosion of metal in some cables.
The bridge’s cables were wrapped in concrete, making it difficult to assess their condition.
Autostrade per l’Italia, which manages the section of the motorway where the bridge was located, planned to strengthen the stays that had not been reinforced in the 1990s, the newspapers reported.
The company has called a special board meeting for Tuesday, Aug. 21, to discuss the deadly collapse, a source said.
Reuters contributed to this report.