'Thank God we stopped at a service station' British couple reveal narrow escape from Genoa bridge collapse

Telegraph Reporters
Nicola and Lisa Henton-Mitchell, from Bicester, Oxfordshire, were forced to flee from their car - BBC

A British family on a three-week holiday to Italy told of their narrow escape from the Genoa bridge collapse that killed 39 people.

Nicola and Lisa Henton-Mitchell, from Bicester, Oxfordshire, were forced to flee from their car and leave most of their belongings behind when a 650-foot portion of the Morandi motorway bridge in northern Italy disintegrated on Tuesday.

Describing how they were confronted by a row of red lights from the cars in front, they said vehicles began to reverse suddenly as cars drifted across the road.

The couple said it was fortunate they had stopped briefly before reaching the bridge to use the toilet.

"We had stopped at a service station to use the toilet,' Lisa said. 'Thank God, or it could have been worse.'

"I was driving. The rain was so severe you could only see a few cars in front of you.

"Something didn't feel right. We felt we were sliding to the right."

Nicola said: "The car moved sideways and we shuddered. We thought it was the wind but now we wonder if it was the road twisting."

"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.'

The couple's daughter had no shoes on and it was not possible to pick her up, the couple recalled, as a tidal wave of people headed to their spot.

British couple Nicola and Lisa Henton-Mitchell, from Bicester, Oxfordshire, told how the stopped briefly at a rest area with their two children on their travels through Italy Credit: Facebook

Their son grabbed a bag which had their passports and phone in, but they left all their other belongings behind.

Seeking refuge in a tunnel, strangers gave them dry clothes. "Everybody was crying, distraught," Lisa said.

On Wednesday evening, concerns were raised that up to 300 bridges, viaducts and tunnels in Italy were also at risk of structural failure too.

The death toll from the disaster has risen to 39, including three children.