Up to 300 bridges, viaducts and tunnels in Italy are at risk of structural failure, experts warned, as the death toll from the collapse of a bridge in Genoa rose to 39, including three children.
There were fears that the number of fatalities could rise further.
Matteo Salvini, Italy’s interior minister, said it was hard to tell how many people were still unaccounted for simply because they were on holiday or “under the rubble”.
He said the tragedy demonstrated the importance of increasing investments and hinted that EU spending limits could put lives at risk.
"If external constraints prevent us from spending to have safe roads and schools, then it really calls into question whether it makes sense to follow these rules," Mr Salvini, who leads the eurosceptic League party, said. "There can be no trade-off between fiscal rules and the safety of Italians."
The European Union pushed back against suggestions EU budget rules might be to blame. "We will not engage in any political finger pointing," the European Commission, the EU's executive in Brussels, said.
The commission in Brussels said Italy was receiving billions of euros under the bloc's multi-annual budget for infrastructure investment and was "one of the main beneficiaries of the flexibility" under the 28-nation bloc's fiscal rules.
Around 70 per cent of Italy’s 15,000 motorway bridges and tunnels are more than 40 years old, many of them built during the post-war boom but now carrying far more traffic than they were designed for.
Lack of investment, poor maintenance and, in some cases, the involvement of mafia-run building companies that use poor quality concrete to increase profits, could all contribute to disasters like the one in Genoa.
“They have problems that, if not addressed in time, could potentially lead to structural failures,” a leading structural engineer told La Repubblica newspaper.
“The problem is not so much knowing which structures are at risk, but having the money to finance repairs and maintenance,” said the expert, who asked for anonymity because he works for a company that assesses public infrastructure.
Among the structures at risk was the Magliana Bridge in Rome, between the city centre and the capital’s busiest airport, Fiumicino, he said.
Italy’s CNR civil engineering society said that many structures dating from the 1960s, when the Morandi Bridge was built, had surpassed their lifespan.
It called for a “Marshall Plan" to repair or replace tens of thousands of Italian bridges and viaducts built in the post-war period.
As investigators began to study what may have caused a 260ft-long portion of the raised motorway in Genoa to collapse, sending around 35 cars and several trucks plummeting to the ground, Italy’s populist government blamed the private company that managed it.
Luigi Di Maio, deputy prime minister and the leader of the Five Star Movement, accused Autostrade per l’Italia of chasing profits at the expense of public safety.
“Instead of investing money for maintenance, they divide the profits and that is why the bridge falls," he said.
Autostrade, which operates nearly 2,000 miles of Italian motorways, is controlled by the Benetton group through its holding company, Atlantia.
Mr Di Maio accused previous Italian governments of turning a blind eye to the upkeep of the country’s motorways because of political contributions.
“For the first time there is a government that does not take money from Benetton. Autostrade was protected by previous governments,” he said.
“If the bridge was dangerous, then they should have closed it.”
The government said it wanted to revoke the contract awarded to Autostrade and hit the company with a massive fine of 150 million euros.
"The first thing that should happen is that the heads of Autostrade per l'Italia should step down. And given that there have been breaches (of contract), I announce that we have begun the process for the eventual revocation of their contract and a fine of 150 million euros,” transport minister Danilo Toninelli said on Facebook.
Autostrade insisted the bridge had been “constantly monitored” and refuted accusations that it had not invested enough in maintenance.
"In the last five years the company's investment in the security, maintenance and strengthening of the network has been over one billion euros a year," it said.
As the coalition, which consists of Five Star and the hard-Right League party, called for heads to roll, it emerged that in 2013 the founder of Five Star had opposed plans to build a new motorway that would have alleviated pressure on the Morandi bridge.
Beppe Grillo, the founder of Five Star, dismissed warnings that the bridge could collapse as “a fairy tale” on his widely-read blog.
When the plans for the new motorway were blocked, one leading industrialist predicted that the Genoa bridge would fail.
“When, in 10 years’ time, the Morandi bridge collapses, and everyone is stuck in traffic jams for hours, we’ll need to remember the names of those who said no (to the project),” said Giovanni Calvini, who was then regional president of Confindustria, an employers’ association.
Arcangelo Merella, a former member of Genoa city council with responsibility for transport, said: “I was saying that the bridge was at risk, that it was no longer adequate and that there was the need to find an alternative because the traffic was becoming heavier all the time.”
As Genoa’s mayor declared two days of mourning, there was anger among locals over the fact that repeated warnings about the safety of the bridge went unheeded.
Several locals told The Telegraph that the structure shook noticeably when trucks rolled across it and many residents worried about crossing over and under it.
The bridge had to withstand more than 25 million vehicle crossings a year, with traffic volumes quadrupling in the last 30 years.
The number of vehicles using the bridge was expected to grow by 30 per cent over the next 30 years.
An engineering report released in 2009 studied the possibility of the bridge being demolished because of concerns over its structural integrity.
“The city is sad and of course the mourning comes first, but the city is also angry, because for years we have talked about substituting this bridge and it was never done,” said Paolo Maggio, a 46-year-old taxi driver.
“This will be a huge hit for the economy – it will impact cargo traffic to and from the airport, the ports, to France. For months, Genoa will be cut in half.”
Andrea Rescin, one of the first local residents to call the emergency services after the bridge crashed to the ground, said: “It sounded like a bomb had gone off, the first thing I thought was that it was an explosion.”
Giuseppe Conte, the prime minister, declared a state of emergency for Genoa, one of the country’s busiest ports, whose main land corridor with France has now effectively been severed. He also announced five million euros of funds going into recovery work.