‘Everyone was screaming to run’
In driving rain, brake lights suddenly illuminated an Italian motorway. Then the screaming started.
“Out, out now. Collapse.”
A UK family have told the BBC of their terror, after being caught up in the collapse of a bridge in Genoa on Tuesday which killed at least 39 people.
Nicola and Lisa Henton-Mitchell, from Bicester, Oxfordshire, were four days into a three-week holiday with their two children when they were forced to abandon their hire car and run for their lives.
“We had stopped at a service station to use the toilet,” Lisa said. “Thank God, or it could have been worse.”
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Speaking from the hotel where they spent Tuesday night, she recalls the chaos as people fled to take shelter in a tunnel.
“I was driving. The rain was so severe you could only see a few cars in front of you,” Lisa said.
“Something didn’t feel right. We felt we were sliding to the right.”
“The car moved sideways and we shuddered,” Nicola explains. “We thought it was the wind but now we wonder if it was the road twisting.”
Traffic suddenly came to a standstill.
“Everyone’s red lights came on,” Lisa said.
“Then it seemed like seconds later the reverse lights came on.
“The car in front reversed and crashed into us. Nobody could really move.”
People closer to the site of the collapse ran towards them, shouting and screaming. The family ran back towards the tunnel through which they had recently driven.
“When we ran from the car my daughter didn’t have her shoes on,” Nicola told the BBC. The couple’s daughter has a disability which affects her mobility, but it was not possible to carry her.
“My son grabbed a rucksack with a few bits in. Fortunately it had our passports and a phone in. Everyone just ran into the tunnel.”
“Car doors and lorry doors were being opened constantly,” Lisa adds.
“When we got to the tunnel, everybody was crying, distraught.”
Soaked and frightened, the family took shelter in the tunnel with other survivors. Few could speak English, so it was difficult to get information about what had happened. Fortunately, the family encountered a Belgian couple who could translate.
“They kindly gave the children some dry tops to put on,” Lisa said.
“It went round that the bridge had collapsed.”
Police officers pulled drivers to one side and started the process of recovering the vehicles they could reach. But Nicola and Lisa’s car was too far away.
“We were just around the bend,” Nicola said.
“They’ve cleared cars up to 250 metres from the tunnel but we were further in so our car is still there.”
A bus transported the people sheltering in the tunnel to a civic centre in Genoa. The authorities provided people there with water, clothes and blankets, while a volunteer helped them to find a hotel.
In the hotel, exhausted, the children were able to sleep.
“We’ve tried to shield them from how serious it was,” Lisa said.
The family asked their travel insurance company to fly them home but they have refused.
They have little more than their money and passports, but are thankful to all the “truly lovely, kind people” who have helped them.
By Chris Bell, BBC