MILAN (CBS News/AP) – A 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 almost 300 feet into a heap of rubble below.

A collapsed section of the raised A10 highway in Genoa, Italy. (Red Cross)

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Italy’s Deputy Transport Minister Edoardo Rixi said on Italian television that at least 22 people were confirmed dead and eight more injured. He said the toll would likely rise further as the rescue and recovery effort continued.

Amalia Tedeschi, a firefighter, told RAI state TV that some 20 vehicles, including cars and trucks, had been involved in the collapse of a stretch of bridge some 260 yards in length. She said two people had been pulled alive from vehicles in the rubble, which fell into an industrial area below the bridge. Officials said they were being transported by helicopter to a hospital.

French news agency AFP said it was a portion of the five-decade old Morandi highway bridge that collapsed. CBS News’ Anna Matranga reports there was maintenance work being performed on the bridge. Italian fire services said the bridge, in an industrial area in west Genoa, fell down at 5 a.m. Eastern time.

The private broadcaster Sky TG24 said a 200-yard section of the Morandi Bridge collapsed over an industrial zone, sending tons of twisted steel and concrete debris onto warehouses below. Firefighters told The Associated Press they were worried about gas lines exploding in the area from the collapse.

Photos published by ANSA on its website showed a huge gulf between two sections of the bridge. Deputy Minister Rixi said it was “the biggest tragedy involving a bridge of this importance in Europe in the last decades.”

Video captured the sound of 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.

A photo published online by the Italian state police shows rescuers climbing over the rubble of a collapsed portion of the Morandi Bridge in Genoa, Italy. (Police handout)

ANSA said authorities suspected that a structural weakness had caused the collapse, but there was no immediate explanation by authorities for why they might have thought that or what had happened.

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Italy’s transport minister, Danilo Toninelli, called the collapse “an enormous tragedy.”

A general view of the Morandi bridge which collapsed on Aug. 14, 2018, in Genoa, Italy. (Getty Images)

News agency ANSA said Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte will travel to Genoa later Tuesday. Interior Minister Matteo Salvini said some 200 firefighters were responding to the accident.

“We are following minute by minute the situation of the bridge collapse in Genoa,” 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. It came on the eve of a major Italian summer holiday on Wednesday called Ferragosto, which means traffic was heavier than usual as Italians traveled to beaches or mountains.

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 295 feet high, just over half a mile long, with the longest section between supports measuring more than 200 yards.

French President Emmanuel Macron offered Italy his country’s help after the collapse, and said in both French and Italian on Twitter that: “Our thoughts go to the victims, their relatives and all the Italian people. France stands by Italy in that tragedy and is ready to provide all necessary support.”

The collapse of the bridge comes eight days after another major accident on an Italian highway, one near the northern city of Bologna. In that case, a tanker truck carrying a highly flammable gas exploded after rear-ending a stopped truck on the road and getting hit from behind itself. The accident killed one person, injured dozens and blew apart a section of a raised eight-lane highway.

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