A vast span of the Morandi bridge caved in during heavy rains in August 2018
A vast span of the Morandi bridge caved in during heavy rains in August 2018

The screams of people trapped under a collapsed bridge in Genoa in 2018 still torment those who witnessed the deadly disaster, for which 59 people go on trial this week.

The Morandi highway in the northwestern Italian city gave way in torrential rain on August 14 four years ago, flinging cars and lorries into the abyss and killing 43 people.

"The sadness is unending," Egle Possetti, who heads a committee for victims' relatives, told AFP. Her sister Claudia died in the disaster, along with her family.

"My sister was so happy. She had married Andrea a few days before the tragedy. They had just returned from their honeymoon in the United States", she said.

Claudia's children, aged 16 and 12, and her new husband Andrea were in the car with her as the ground dropped beneath them.

The tragedy shone a spotlight on the state of Italy's transport infrastructure. Autostrade per l'Italia (ASPI), which runs almost half Italy's motorway network, is accused of failing to maintain the bridge.

ASPI belonged at the time to the Atlantia group, which is controlled by the wealthy Benetton family.

The family eventually bowed to pressure to sell its share to the state for eight billion euros ($8.4 billion).

The former head of Atlantia, Giovanni Castelluci, is among those standing in the trial which starts on Thursday.

Possetti, 57, said she was not banking on quick justice for those responsible for the disaster.

"In Italy, trials are long and unfortunately often have unfavourable outcomes for the victims," she said.

Children play football in what will soon become a memorial park to mark the spot where pillar number nine of the old bridge collapsed.

Not far away, a footbridge dedicated to the tragedy spans the Polcevera river, into which some of the vehicles that dropped from the bridge fell and which is now bone dry due to drought.

"The cries from under the rubble of people screaming for help, the flattened cars floating there and the bodies will stay in my memory forever," local authority head Federico Romeo told AFP.

In the Certosa district nearby, many houses display "For Sale" signs.

"The historic shops have almost all closed" and property prices have plummeted, says Massimiliano Braibanti, who runs the neighbourhood watch scheme.

The area, which borders the site of the tragedy, was cut off for over a year due to road closures to allow the bridge to be rebuilt. It has not benefitted from the aid given to those left homeless by the collapse.

"I feel the need for justice, to know who is guilty of the deaths of my brother, nephew, sister-in-law and so many others -- and that they will answer for their actions," Giorgio Robbiano, 45, told AFP.

Robbiano's brother Roberto had been on his way to their father's house to celebrate his 44th birthday, along with his wife Ersilia and their eight-year-old son Samuele.

"They died because of a bridge that was never maintained, on which people were speculating to save on maintenance costs and make profits," Robbiano said.

His father died last year.

"He never got over the pain. And sadly, he'll never have the opportunity to look the person who killed his son and grandson in the eye".

A playground under the new bridge will become a memorial park for victims of the disaster
A playground under the new bridge will become a memorial park for victims of the disaster