Italian earthquake, natural and authority made disaster

This video is called Witness – Return to L’Aquila: Broken promises.

By Stefan Steinberg:

Warnings suppressed

Over two hundred victims in Italian earthquake

8 April 2009

The earthquake that shook central Italy early Monday morning has already claimed the lives of at least 228 victims. It destroyed some 15,000 buildings, leaving up to 100,000 people homeless. The death toll is expected to rise in the coming days as rescuers dig through rubble in conditions made worse by low temperatures, rain, the rugged terrain of the region and aftershocks.

The quake, which registered 6.3 on the Richter scale, struck the mountainous region of Abruzzo some 110 kilometres northeast of Rome. Aftershocks have continued to plague the region even as thousands of the homeless remain housed in makeshift tents.

The quake was centred on the medieval city of L’Aquila, where entire housing blocks were razed to the ground. The city (total population of 68,000) lies just 1 kilometre from the quake’s epicentre. A total of 26 settlements across the region are reported to have been affected. After concentrating on the main urban centres, rescue workers are increasingly focusing their efforts on the more remote settlements, which in turn may well reveal an increased number of victims. …

Some residents in the town of L’Aquila said the government had failed to take action despite tremors in the region growing worse over the past few months. The first tremors were felt in mid-January and continued at regular intervals, creating mounting alarm. One woman whose home collapsed said that there was a severe jolt a week ago.

Maria Francesco, a survivor of the earthquake who lives in L’Aquila, said: “It’s a scandal what’s happened. For the past three months, there have been regular tremors, and they’ve been getting stronger and stronger. The authorities were well aware.”

Warnings given

Not only was Monday’s quake preceded by a series of tremors, it had been predicted with some accuracy by one leading scientist. The disaster took place just weeks after a warning was given by a researcher that a “disastrous seismic event” was imminent in the region. Giampaolo Giuliani, from the National Physical Laboratory of Gran Sasso, warned of the dangers of a quake after sensors in the L’Aquila region detected radon gas escaping from the ground.

Following Giuliani’s warning, vans with loudspeakers were driven around the medieval town, urging residents to evacuate their homes. This campaign was then wound down after Giuliani was reported by the local authorities to the police for “scare-mongering.” He was then put under pressure to withdraw his warning and remove information he had placed on the Internet. Giuliani had made a video and included an interview on the Internet in which he warned that a “disastrous seismic event” was on its way.

There used to be a video of pro Berlusconi Italian TV, mocking the earthquake predictions by Giampalo Giuliani, just before the quake happened, here. However, YouTube has deleted that video.

Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi was among the first to dismiss Giuliani’s warning and told a press conference after the quake that there was “no scientific basis” to any suggestion that the earthquake had been predicted.

In response to claims by other scientists that it was not possible to predict earthquakes, Giuliani told the Italian newspaper Corriere Della Sera: ‘It is utterly false to say that we cannot predict seismic events. We can. We have been able to do so for 10 years. We have been seeing these signs…. I too have been evacuated; we have lived the worst night of our lives.”

Giuliani’s research has been supported by other leading seismologists and experts in the field.

Shoddy construction and corruption

There is considerable evidence that the damage inflicted by Monday’s quake could have been minimised by the planned evacuation of residents. At the same time, it is also apparent that the high toll of deaths and casualties is directly attributable to the shoddy construction standards that prevail throughout the entire country.

“Buildings are the main killers when earthquakes strike,” wrote the Geneva-based UN International Strategy for Disaster Reduction. In the case of L’Aquila, many of the collapsed buildings were “old structures which did not meet modern seismic standards,” it said. …

One leading geologist and disaster expert, Franco Barberi, told Italian state television that with correct building standards, including anti-seismic protection, it would have been possible to avoid any deaths for a quake of this scale.

The damage caused in the town of L’Aquila included a number of its precious medieval buildings. According to initial estimates, nearly half of the city’s medieval centre has been razed to the ground. Nevertheless, despite the damage done to such older buildings, the fact remains that medieval or even ancient monuments and structures were frequently constructed on a sounder basis than many of Italy’s modern building and housing projects.

A large number of the buildings that have been destroyed in L’Aquila are just 10-15 years old. According to one city resident, Nicoletta Giusti: “We always told ourselves that everything here would be able to withstand an earthquake, but it’s obvious that they took cost-cutting shortcuts like using, I don’t know, inferior cement or not enough steel.”

Rescue efforts have been hampered by the collapse of L’Aquila’s new public hospital, which was built in 2000. La Stampa newspaper quoted Paolo Rocchi, an architect and university professor on the conservation of historic buildings: “I am really startled that a reinforced concrete hospital in a highly seismic zone can be so devastated to be declared off-limits. It’s absurd.”

To cut corners and increase profits, building companies often use inferior materials, and there is a long tradition of corruption in the Italian public works and construction industry.

Just a few weeks ago, judges convicted five people in the 2002 collapse of a school in a 5.4-magnitude quake. Prosecutors alleged shoddy construction was a factor in the tragedy in southern Italy that claimed 28 lives, including the small town’s entire first grade.

Prime Minister Berlusconi, who rushed to assure the media that this latest quake and the damage it caused was an unavoidable act of fate, made his own fortune in the building industry before shedding large parts of his empire to his brother Paolo. In recent years, Paolo Berlusconi has been repeatedly accused of malpractice and bribery in relation to his own practices as head of the family’s building concerns.

At the end of March, the Italian prime minister Silvio Berlusconi founded a new right-wing party in Rome. He merged his own party, Forza Italia, which he first set up in 1994, with the neo-fascist National Alliance (Alleanza Nazionale) led by Gianfranco Fini to create the right-wing party People of Freedom (Popolo della Libertà, PdL): here.

13 thoughts on “Italian earthquake, natural and authority made disaster

  1. Quake: Italy may accept U. S. help
    Obama offers funds for churches and heritage sites
    (ANSA) – L’Aquila, April 7 – Italy may accept help from the United States following the L’Aquila earthquake, Premier Silvio Berlusconi said Tuesday.

    After initially turning down offers of help that have poured in from abroad, Berlusconi appeared to change his mind after receiving ”a long phone call” from US President Barack Obama as he toured temporary camps set up to house those who had lost their homes in the disaster.

    ”If the United States wants to give a tangible sign of its solidarity with Italy it could take on the responsibility of rebuilding heritage sites and churches,” Berlusconi said.

    ”We would be very happy to have this support”.

    The premier said Obama had said this was ”an excellent idea” and would discuss it when the two leaders meet in Washington on a date yet to be set.

    Berlusconi said another alternative would be for the US to help rebuild ”a small district of a town or a suburb” so that it could say ”this was done with our contribution”.

    Many historic buildings and churches in L’Aquila were destroyed or damaged in Monday’s earthquake, including the apse of the Abruzzo city’s largest Romanesque church, the 13th-century Basilica di Santa Maria di Collemaggio, and the cupola of the 17th-century Anime Sante church designed by Giuseppe Valadier.


  2. Dear A.G.Kanth, thanks for commenting. What needs to happen now is a) good care for the survivors of the earthquake. b) for the future: taking scientists’ warnings seriously, making buildings safer, etc. Contrary to what happened now under Berlusconi.


  3. Thanks for the information you have provided on the devastating Italian earthquake. For those that want to support relief efforts, they can give to the appeal featured on GlobalGiving (a project that we are featuring that is being led by Italian NGO Slow Food. For US donors the Appeal page is and for UK donors (UK tax payers can also add Gift Aid).


  4. Quake: 289 dead. day of mourning
    Solemn funeral in L’Aquila
    (ANSA) – Rome, April 10 – The death toll from Monday’s devastating earthquake in the central Abruzzo region current stands at 289.

    An official day of mourning for the victims is being observed in Italy on Friday and a solemn funeral will be held in the capital of Abruzzo, L’Aquila, which will be broadcast live on Italian state and private TV.

    The funeral will be celebrated by Vatican Secretary of State Tarcisio Bertone and L’Aquila Archbishop Msgr Giuseppe Molinari.

    Pope Benedict XVI has also sent his personal secretary, Father Georg Gaenswein, and the secretary of the Italian Bishop’s Conference (CEI), Msgr Mariano Crociata, to represent the Church.

    The pope himself intends to visit Abruzzo some time after Easter. A number of business and artisans’ associations and nationwide supermarket chains announced they would suspend activity for the duration of the ceremony.

    Representing the state will be President Giorgio Napolitano, Premier Silvio Berlusconi, Senate Speaker Renato Schifani and House Speaker Gianfranco Fini, while leading members of both government and opposition parties will also attend.

    A total of 150 coffins have been brought to the Finance Guard barracks where the funeral will be held.

    Following the Catholic Mass, an Islamic funeral ceremony will be held for the six Muslim quake victims, including two Palestinians.

    All bishops from the Abruzzo and Molise regions will attend the funeral along with over 100 priests and a 20-member choir.


  5. Apr 13, 1:19 PM EDT

    Italy Jews aid towns that gave shelter during WWII

    Associated Press Writer

    FOSSA, Italy (AP) — Italian Jews and Holocaust survivors are rushing to aid communities that sheltered them during World War II and were hit by last week’s devastating earthquake.

    A delegation of some 20 elderly survivors and their descendants, as well as Jewish community leaders, roamed the shattered countryside of central Italy on Monday, looking for their one-time saviors, now living in tent camps.

    They offered everything from gym shoes to summer camps for children.

    “I wouldn’t be here if it weren’t for these people,” said Alberto Di Consiglio, whose parents were sheltered in the small hamlet of Fossa during the war. “We have to help them.”

    More than 100 tent cities have been built around L’Aquila and the 26 towns and villages affected by the 6.3-magnitude quake, which struck central Italy on April 6. The temblor killed 294 people and displaced another 55,000.

    In the chaos of the relief efforts, Jews who had been sheltered in the area during the war lost touch with their one-time saviors, many of whom are simple farmers with no cell phones.

    At least five Jewish families, including around 30 people, took shelter in the small mountainside hamlets of Fossa and Casentino between mid-1943 until the arrival of the Allies a year later, survivors said.

    In one tent, Di Consiglio managed to find Nello De Bernardinis, 74, the son of the couple who sheltered Di Consiglio’s father and eight other relatives during the war.

    “It was a great emotion, it’s so painful that such righteous people should suffer like this and live in a tent,” Di Consiglio said.

    De Bernardinis said he was fine for the moment and greatly appreciated the gesture of the Jewish community to check in on him and his family. He said, though, that it would be useful to have help during harvest time, and Di Consiglio promised his whole family would come.

    Riccardo Pacifici, the head of Rome’s Jewish community, said he was working to get recognition from Jerusalem’s Yad Vashem Holocaust memorial for people like De Bernardinis and others who sheltered Roman Jews. The memorial bestows a special honor on those who saved Jews during World War II.

    Irena Steinfeldt, director of the Righteous Among the Nations department at Yad Vashem, said the museum was not familiar with the stories of Fossa and Casentino. She urged the Jewish families to come forward so the people who saved them could be recognized.

    “We have not heard these stories, and we want to hear these stories,” Steinfeldt said. “There are still people who haven’t approached us and haven’t spoken, and I would be happy if the families contacted Yad Vashem and told us,” she said.

    Other stories of Jews being saved in the same area were recorded, she said, usually involving Jews who fled from Rome to nearby villages. In one town, Tagliacozzo Alto, a priest named Don Gaetano Tantalo took in the Orvieto family in the spring of 1944, even preparing a traditional Passover meal for them, she said. He was recognized by Yad Vashem in 1978.

    Associated Press reporter Matti Friedman contributed to this report from Jerusalem.


  6. Pingback: Rats leaving Berlusconi’s sinking ship | Dear Kitty. Some blog

  7. Pingback: L’Aquila, Italy earthquake: scientists sentenced, Berlusconi free | Dear Kitty. Some blog

  8. Pingback: Italian film on Berlusconi’s earthquake corruption | Dear Kitty. Some blog

  9. Pingback: Earthquake, corruption, kill in Italy | Dear Kitty. Some blog

  10. Pingback: Italian earthquake survivors protest against Berlusconi | Dear Kitty. Some blog

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