08/14/2018 08:22 EDT | Updated 08/14/2018 13:43 EDT

Italy Bridge Collapse: Cars Crushed As Part Of Morandi Bridge Collapses During Heavy Storm

Transport minister Danilo Toninelli called the collapse "an enormous tragedy."

MILAN — A man who was under the highway bridge that collapsed in Italy calls it "a miracle'' that he survived.

The middle-aged man tells local Italian TV that he was standing in front of his truck under the bridge in the city of Genoa when the structure collapsed Tuesday. He spoke in Italian as he was being filmed walking away from the disaster site but did not give his name.

He says the shockwave sent him flying over 10 metres (33 feet) into a wall, injuring his right shoulder and hip.

He says "I was in front of the truck, and flew away like everything else. Yes, I think it's a miracle. I don't know what to say. I'm out of words.''

An official at Italy's Civil protection agency says at least 20 people died and 16 were injured in the bridge collapse.

The bridge on a main highway linking Italy with France collapsed Tuesday in the Italian port city of Genoa during a sudden, violent storm, sending vehicles plunging 45 metres (nearly 150 feet) into a heap of rubble. Italian officials said at least 20 people were killed, although some people were found alive in the debris.

A huge section of the Morandi Bridge fell at midday over an industrial zone, sending tons of twisted steel and concrete onto warehouses below. Photos from the Italian news agency ANSA showed a massive gap between two sections of the bridge.

The head of Italy's civil protection agency, Angelo Borrelli, said 30-35 cars and three heavy trucks were on the 80-meter (260-foot) section of the bridge that collapsed.

Hundreds of firefighters and emergency officials were searching for survivors in the rubble with heavy equipment. Firefighters said at least two people were pulled alive from vehicles and taken by helicopter to a hospital.

Video of the collapse captured a man screaming: "Oh, God! Oh, God!'' Other images showed a green truck that had stopped just short of the gaping hole in the bridge and the tires of a tractor trailer in the rubble.

Connecting highway between Italy and France

The collapse came on the eve of a major Italian summer holiday on Wednesday called Ferragosto, which marks the religious feast of the Assumption of Mary. It's the high point of the Italian summer holiday season when most cities and business are closed and Italians head to the beaches or the mountains. That means traffic could have been heavier than usual on the Genoa highway.

The Morandi Bridge is a main thoroughfare connecting the A10 highway that goes toward France and the A7 highway that continues north toward Milan. Inaugurated in 1967, it is 45 metres (148 feet) high and just over a kilometre (.6 miles) long.

Stefano Rellandini / Reuters
The collapsed Morandi Bridge is seen in the Italian port city of Genoa, Aug. 14, 2018.

Borrelli said highway engineers were checking other parts of the bridge and that some areas were being evacuated as a precaution. He said they were still trying to figure out the reason for the collapse.

"You can see there are very big portions of the bridge (that collapsed). We need to remove all of the rubble to ascertain that all of the people have been reached,'' he said, adding that more than 280 rescue workers and dogs units were on the scene.

"Operations are ongoing to extract people imprisoned below parts of the bridge and twisted metal,'' he said.

Borrelli said there was no construction going on at the time on the bridge.

Firefighters told The Associated Press they were worried about gas lines exploding in the area from the collapse.

Stefano Rellandini / Reuters
The collapsed Morandi Bridge is seen in the Italian port city of Genoa, Aug. 14, 2018.

Transportation Minister Danilo Toninelli called the collapse "an enormous tragedy.''

ANSA said Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte will travel to Genoa later in the day.

"We are following minute by minute the situation,'' Interior Minister Matteo Salvini said on Twitter.

The disaster occurred on a highway that connects Italy to France, and northern cities like Milan to the beaches of Liguria.

On Aug. 6, another major accident occurred on an Italian highway near the northern city of Bologna. A tanker truck carrying a highly flammable gas exploded after rear-ending a stopped truck and getting hit from behind. The accident killed one person, injured dozens and blew apart a section of a raised eight-lane highway.