22 people have died and at least 16 have been injured after the catastrophic collapse of a highway bridge near Genoa, Italy, local authorities report.

The BBC reports a section of the Morandi Bridge, spanning dozens of metres, failed around 11:30am local time amid severe rainfall.

Cars and trucks traversing the bridge at the time were sent plummeting to the Polcevera River some 45 metres below.

Footage posted on social media shows a large concrete pillar fail after the main collapse.

Rescue services are looking for survivors in the rubble, and their efforts are expected to go on throughout the evening.

Italian Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte has described the disaster as “an incredible tragedy.” He has arrived in Genoa and is expected to remain there for at least a day, according to an official statement obtained by CNN. 

The nation’s interior minister, Matteo Salvini, said those responsible for the 50-year-old structure’s collapse will not escape consequences.

“Now, as an Italian citizen, I will do everything to get the names and surnames of the managers responsible, past and present, because it is unacceptable to die like that in Italy,” Salvini said.

Highway operator Autostrade issued a statement saying maintenance work was underway at the time of the collapse, but they had no reason to believe the structure was unsafe.

The cause of the collapse will be determined when the site is safe to access, the company added.

Source: BBC
Image: Luca Zennaro / AP