Earthquake, corruption, kill in Italy


This video from Italy is called Italian PM Silvio Berlusconi: L’Aquila‘s earthquake homeless should enjoy ‘a camping weekend’.

By Marianne Arens:

Earthquake in Abruzzo exposes corruption in Italian building industry

14 April 2009

A week after the devastating earthquake in Abruzzo, the full extent of the damage and destruction is still not apparent.

Around half of the estimated 40,000 left homeless by the quake are being temporarily housed in 32 camping areas surrounding the town of L’Aquila. A series of aftershocks following the main quake have added to the trauma of survivors.

So far, a total of 291 bodies have been dug out of the ruins, but aid services have declared that it will take some time until they have been able to clear away all of the rubble and exclude the possibility of additional victims.

It is estimated that 687 towns and communities were affected by the quake. The total of collapsed or heavily damaged houses is reckoned at nearly half a million. According to satellite pictures, the entire town of L’Aquila has shifted by 15 centimetres.

Grief and shock have given way in the last week to growing anger as it has become clear that much of the destruction could have been avoided. Inhabitants are alarmed by the fact that many buildings, including recently built constructions, were turned into piles of rubble by the quake, while other buildings in the immediate vicinity remained largely intact. One example is two buildings on the Via Campo di Fossa in L’Aquila. One of the houses was razed to the ground, killing 26 of the building’s 29 inhabitants, while the second house survived without serious damage.

According to Franco Barberi, chairman of the Commission for Protection Against Catastrophes, “In California there would not have been such casualties from a similar earthquake.” He said the large number of victims in the Italian quake was largely due to the poor quality of buildings in the region, with many lacking adequate safeguards against the danger of earthquakes.

The new hospital in L’Aquila and a student accommodation building—both public constructions built with taxpayer money—were not built according to modern specifications, including protective measures against earthquakes. Both buildings collapsed in the quake. While there were no deaths in the hospital collapse, six people died when the student building fell to ground.

The collapse of the hospital has sparked questions about Italy’s biggest building company, IMPREGILO. This firm was formerly part of the Fiat Group and is currently part of a consortium of companies consisting of Benetton, Gavio and Ligresti.

The company won the bid for the construction of the San Salvatore hospital in L’Aquila in 1991. Last week’s earthquake revealed that the company used low-quality concrete mixed heavily with sand. A preliminary investigation of the ruins has further shown that the steel reinforcements used in the building were corroded and gave way easily.

This was the conclusion reached by Paolo Clemente, a civil engineer with the authority for technology and environment, ENEA, which has examined a number of the ruined buildings. Clemente declared it was likely that the building company had used sand from the coast, which was much less pure than building sand. Such a practice is common in Italian building by companies seeking to maximise their profits. …

However, it is very likely that a criminal investigation into the latest earthquake will be contained or scuttled at the behest of the national government.

For the past week, Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi has traveled repeatedly to the earthquake region, surrounded by employees of his media empire. He has promised to rebuild all the houses that were destroyed, while at the same time playing down the social and political ramifications of the earthquake.

According to the prime minister, the quake was an act of fate that nobody could have predicted. At one point, he said that the tens of thousands of homeless victims should regard their housing under canvas as a “camping holiday.” Following a wave of indignation at this comment, Berlusconi backtracked and declared he would be prepared to house a handful of the victims in three of his many villas.

Berlusconi knows only too well that a thorough investigation into the role of building firms in the region would have implications for his government and would cast light on his own rise to prominence, which had its foundations in the Italian construction industry.

In 2003, the government headed by Berlusconi passed a decree stipulating norms for the construction industry following the collapse of a school during the earthquake that struck San Gilliano di Puglia. These norms have not been properly enforced, however, and their implementation has been blocked by a lobby of property and construction concerns. …

The IMPREGILO building company has repeatedly hit the headlines recently in connection with accusations of corruption. The company was involved in the construction of a waste disposal unit for the city of Naples—a project that was delayed for decades as a result of allegations of links between the firm and organised crime.

Following the reelection of Berlusconi in 2008, IMPREGILO had high hopes of winning a number of lucrative construction contracts, and the company’s share value soared. IMPREGILO expects to be awarded the contract for a bridge to be built between the Italian mainland and Sicily—the longest such suspension bridge to be built anywhere in the world. The Messina Bridge project is priced at €6 billion, and Berlusconi has repeated his intention to go ahead with the construction, despite the current economic and financial crisis.

Last Friday, the newspaper Il Manifesto called for a halt to Berlusconi’s prestige project, arguing that the money would be better spent rebuilding the houses lost in the quake and promoting better building standards across the country. …

In fact, Berlusconi’s earlier activities in the building industry reveal many of the problems that plague the modern Italian construction industry. His rise to prominence began with his management of a small building company on the outskirts of Milan. Berlusconi was able to take over the leading construction firm Edilnord and commenced the huge apartment block projects Milano 2 and Milano 3.

Much of the capital raised by Berlusconi for his building projects is alleged to have come from the coffers of the secret society Propaganda 2, headed by the former fascist Licio Gelli, who maintained close links to political, military and business circles, as well as the secret services and Mafia. Berlusconi reportedly took up membership in this secret society in 1978.

Berlusconi’s subsequent meteoric rise in political circles was made possible primarily by the intervention of his political godfather—the head of the Italian Socialist Party, Bettino Craxi. Together with the longstanding Christian Democrat Giulio Andreotti, Craxi embodies the network of bribery and corruption that has come to be known as Tangentopoli.

When Berlusconi became prime minister for a second time in 2001, he transferred the remaining parts of his building empire to his brother. Since then, Berlusconi has held a protective hand over the activities of his brother and the building industry as a whole.

The extent of corrupt practices in the Italian building industry is shown by the comments made by the state attorney in L’Aquila, Alfredo Rossini. Rossini told the newspaper Corriere della Sera that it would be difficult to avoid Mafia involvement in plans for the rebuilding of the city. “We are in contact with the national anti-Mafia authority,” Rossini declared,” in order to ensure that the building program does not encourage the Mafia, which would see the reconstruction as a chance to promote their own business interests.”

From Blog from Italy:

Satirical Cartoonist Vauro Senesi Censored

As many have noted, Gaffeman, otherwise known as Silvio Berlusconi, has been using the Abruzzo tragedy to score as many political points as he can.

This did not escape the notice of naughty Italian satirical cartoonist, Vauro Senesi, who has been banned from Italy’s RAI television channel after he displayed a number of cartoons on the political talk show Annozero which caricatured Berlusconi and his behaviour after the disaster. Senesi cartoons also made indirect references as to how the tragedy could have been avoided.

These cartoons have created a huge, and unnecessary, stir amongst Italy’s politicians, even if one of the Italian Values party members did have the guts to agree with the points Senesi made.

EUROPE’S top human rights watchdog slammed Italy on Thursday for ignoring a request that it suspend forced deportations to Tunisia to prevent the possible torture of failed asylum-seekers: here.

18 thoughts on “Earthquake, corruption, kill in Italy

  1. Quake: Fears of Mafia infiltration

    ‘River of money’ for rebuilding city could be mafioso target

    (ANSA) – L’Aquila, April 14 – Funds arriving in the Abruzzo capital L’Aquila to help reconstruct the city after the devastating April 6 earthquake could become a target for the Mafia, L’Aquila public prosecutor Alfredo Rossini warned Tuesday.

    ”We assume that since there is a Mafia presence in Abruzzo, as has been demonstrated in the past, it’s logical to imagine that the mafiosi will not turn a blind eye to the river of money that is set to arrive,” Rossini said. ”For that reason we’ll be on very high alert to check who will come (to rebuild the city), and I don’t mean just that they have antimafia certification,” he said, adding that he had discussed the risk with National Antimafia prosecutor Pietro Grasso. Grasso said Monday that lessons must be learned from the 1980 earthquake in Irpinia, near Naples, which left almost 3,000 people dead and 300,000 homeless. Much of the reconstruction funds ended up in the hands of the local Camorra Mafia. ”Certainly, Abruzzo is not Campania, where organised crime is strongly rooted,” Grasso said. ”But experience shows it is important to make post-quake tenders more transparent and to pay attention to how the funds are managed, as well as to which companies are entrusted with works through private negotiations”. However, Abruzzo Governor Gianni Chiodi played down the risk of mobsters getting a share of the reconstruction money.

    ”This is not a concrete concern. It’s a fear, an anxiety that arises from what has sometimes happened before in our country,” Chiodi said. ”But times have changed: this is Abruzzo and, above all, there is not even the hint of evidence to say such things”. According to a joint report from L’Aquila’s prosecutor’s office and the National Antimafia Department, there are signs that the Mafia had begun to infiltrate the region before the earthquake. The report said the Camorra is an increasing presence in drugs trafficking in the region, while there is growing evidence that Sicily’s Cosa Nostra is setting up companies in the waste disposal sector that could recycle dirty money as well as win public contracts.

    HOSPITAL TO BE A PRINCIPLE FOCUS OF INQUIRY.

    Rossini said L’Aquila’s San Salvatore hospital will meanwhile be ”one of the principal points” of an inquiry over construction safety in the wake of earthquake. The hospital, which opened in 2000 and should have been quake-proof, had to be evacuated after its walls cracked. Building work on the hospital began in 1972, and the principal problems occurred mainly in older parts of the hospital. Rossini said he had acquired the results of a 2000 parliamentary report on unfinished hospitals that slammed San Salvatore in order to ”verify possible criminal responsibility” for the collapse. The report criticised ”irrationality and obsolescence” in the construction plans as well as ”poor quality of the materials used”. ”Our priority will be those large, new buildings that nevertheless collapsed,” Rossini said, promising ”the mother of all inquiries”. L’Aquila Mayor Massimo Cialente, also a hospital doctor, said it was clear that ”extremely serious mistakes” had been made during the building of the hospital. ”The hospital would not have collapsed if it had been built as it should have been,” he said. Chiodi said the region would lodge a civil suit in the event that anyone was found responsible for failing to meet construction safety norms.

    53% OF BUILDINGS INHABITABLE SO FAR.

    Out of some 1,500 building inspections made so far in L’Aquila, around 53% are inhabitable, civil protection sources said on Tuesday.

    Around 20% need minor repairs to be stable, while 20% are totally uninhabitable and the rest partially so, sources said.

    Inspectors are first checking buildings which appear to be stable while the city centre and neighboring towns, where the damage from the April 6 earthquake is most evident, have been cordoned off and will be inspected later.

    Around 46,000 people are currently homeless as a result of the quake, with 25,000 living in tent camps and a further 21,000 being housed in hotels on the Abruzzo coast.

    Firemen have meanwhile been at work since the weekend to retrieve said clothes, medicines, ID cards and documents from homes which are too risky for owners to enter.

    ”People fled at night, wearing just what they had on in bed,” said rescue worker Francesco Santucci. ”They’re very undemanding about what they ask us to retrieve… if we can though we’re obviously happy to pick up important objects, especially if they’ve got a sentimental value,” he said. Chiodi said Tuesday that following the rescue phase of the emergency, the next phase will involve finding ”more comfortable” lodgings for those camped out in tents or hotels who will not be able to return to their homes, which he pledged to do by October or latest by November. ”The third phase will be reconstruction of L’Aquila’s historic centre and planning a series of initiatives for the city’s future, including its role as a university centre, new industrial activities and revitalising businesses,” he said.

    Aftershocks in the region continued Tuesday, more than a week after the quake that left 294 dead and 1,500 injured, although the National Geophysics and Vulcanology Institute said the epicentres of the quakes have been moving away from L’Aquila, northeast to the Gran Sasso mountain.

    On Monday an aftershock registering 4.9 on the Richter scale hit the region at 23:14 (21:14 GMT) – one of the strongest since the main quake, which measured 5.8 on the scale.

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  2. Quake: Murder charges possible

    Prosecutors gather evidence for ‘mother of inquiries’

    (ANSA) – L’Aquila, April 17 – Murder charges may be pressed as part of an inquiry into construction safety in the wake of the April 6 earthquake, L’Aquila Public Prosecutor Alfredo Rossini said Friday.

    Rossini earlier this week promised the ”mother of all inquiries” after many modern, supposedly quake-proof buildings collapsed in the devastating earthquake that killed 294 people.

    ”We have to see if anyone involved in the chain of building the houses that collapsed contributed to the deaths caused… by the earthquake,” he said Friday.

    ”If someone made a mistake, then the crime is without intent, but if someone behaved like a thief and (deliberately) didn’t put iron in the pillars, then it becomes a crime with intent,” he said.

    Rossini said prosecutors had seized 13 buildings as part of the inquiry, although ”there will be others”, and that he had drawn up a list of around 20 people to be questioned.

    ”The questioning will begin once we have got all the documents useful for reconstructing the ‘history’ of these buildings and when results from surveys of the seized properties are available,” he said.

    Prosecutors were also collecting footage from local television stations as well as from closed circuit cameras outside banks and other city buildings to assess how buildings collapsed.

    Survivors of the quake meanwhile continued to file complaints, with many describing the damage to their properties as ”absolutely inexplicable”.

    Around 80 students who lived in the Student Lodgings that was completely destroyed in the quake, killing seven under the rubble, formed a committee to file a joint complaint.

    ”I decided to join to have justice. There were lots of things wrong with the building but they were taken lightly,” said student Marilena Faragasso, who scrambled to safety from the lodgings on April 6.

    In another complaint, a survivor said he had bought his house three months prior to the quake.

    ”They assured me it was quake-proof, and instead it collapsed. That was my life’s savings,” he said.

    Earlier this week Rossini said the city’s San Salvatore hospital would be ”one of the main points” of the inquiry.

    The hospital, which opened in 2000 and should have been quake-proof, had to be evacuated after its walls cracked.

    HEALTH SITUATION ‘UNDER CONTROL’.

    Health Undersecretary Ferruccio Fazio on Friday meanwhile ruled out a risk of epidemics in L’Aquila and surrounding towns, saying the health situation was under control. Speaking during a visit to L’Aquila, Fazio said officials were ”monitoring the situation very carefully for possible epidemics or infections”. Referring to conditions in the 5,285 tents set up after the April 6 quake, Fazio said ”considering the emergency, the situation couldn’t be any better than it is”. According to the civil protection department, the number of people left homeless stands at 64,752 after the quake affected 49 towns and villages: 37 in the province of L’Aquila, five in the province of Teramo and seven in the Adriatic coast province of Pescara.

    Survivors have been given temporary lodgings in 369 hotels, mainly along the Abruzzo region’s Adriatic coast, in 1106 private homes and in 114 tent camps, the department said.

    Meanwhile, cabinet Undersecretary Paolo Bonaiuti clarified Friday that the government will cover costs of restoring or rebuilding houses in the stricken areas, while it will contribute 33% of costs for people who decide to rebuild houses elsewhere.

    SPAIN TO FUND REPAIR OF L’AQUILA’S CASTLE.

    The Spanish government on Friday responded to an appeal to ‘adopt’ an artistic monument damaged by the quake, saying it would fund the repair of L’Aquila’s 16th-century Spanish castle. Foreign ministry sources said a group of Spanish experts will assess the damage at the castle, built by the army of Charles V (1500-1558) and considered one of the most beautiful built in Renaissance Italy. On Thursday, Premier Silvio Berlusconi said he would ask allies to fund repairs for 38 major monuments. The premier said the government would step in to fund repairs for monuments that ”foreign friends” could not adopt. Practically all of L’Aquila’s artistic heritage suffered serious damage in Monday’s earthquake.

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  3. Apr 17, 3:28 PM EDT

    Italy outraged by crumbling of hospital in quake

    By VANESSA GERA and MARTA FALCONI
    Associated Press Writers

    L’AQUILA, Italy (AP) — The hospital of San Salvatore should have been a sanctuary for the injured when this central Italian city and its surroundings were struck by an earthquake.

    It was anything but.

    Like many buildings in the area, its walls cracked and crumbled after the April 6 pre-dawn temblor, forcing the evacuation of the 250-bed hospital just as it was struggling to treat 1,500 more injured. Nobody inside the hospital was killed or injured in the quake.

    Now, the failure of San Salvatore has turned into a source of public outrage and debate, with many people asking how the structure, whose construction began in the early 1970s, could have crumbled in the 6.3-magnitude quake. It also the focus of an investigation, with experts saying inferior building standards for an earthquake-prone area factored into the tragedy.

    “Not only should a hospital not be damaged by an earthquake, but it should also keep working,” said engineer Alessandro Martelli, who heads a six-member team of experts monitoring damaged buildings around L’Aquila. “Such a building would have been a disgrace even if it was built in the 1700s.”

    Investigators have collected samples from the hospital, and chief prosecutor Alfredo Rossini said the hospital is central to what he has pledged would be “the mother of all investigations” – both because it is a structure of great public importance and because it was one of the city’s newer buildings and should have been built to resist a quake of this magnitude.

    He said this week he expected the probe to lead to the arrests of anyone found responsible for substandard construction.

    Officials say some 10,000 to 15,000 buildings were either damaged or destroyed in the 49 cities, towns and villages around L’Aquila, a picturesque city of 70,000. Among structures destroyed were centuries-old churches, bell towers and buildings – but also modern structures, including a university dormitory that pancaked, killing seven students.

    Shoddy construction has been a problem in Italy, even in places not struck by earthquakes. In November, for example, a section of a ceiling collapsed at a high school near Turin, killing one student and injuring 20 others.

    Martelli said some pillars holding up the walls of the hospital – which was started in 1974 but took nearly 30 years to finish due to delays and bureaucracy – simply “exploded.”

    “The hypothesis is that the concrete did not resist the quake’s compression and the rods broke apart because they were not sufficiently fixed. The problem is simply bad construction,” Martelli said.

    Now, in place of a 250-bed hospital, tents have been set up outside the damaged structure for emergency cases. Other cases are sent to other regional hospitals, with only 40 patients too weak or old to move elsewhere still being treated at the field hospital.

    The tent complex looks like an army hospital in a war zone. The internal medicine ward is a long tent flanked by cots on each side where nurses tread over improvised tarp flooring as they tend to elderly patients, some with breathing tubes in their noses.

    Prosecutors are still working to determine what exactly went wrong at San Salvatore that prevented the hospital from fulfilling its mission as a place of healing for the injured and sick.

    Rossini, the prosecutor, said he would look into “the whole construction chain of the collapsed buildings, from when the contracts were drawn, to who built them, to the designers and to who carried out the tests.”

    Antonio Piersanti, director of the seismology department at the Rome-based National Institute of Geophysics and Vulcanology, said the massive destruction inflicted by the quake “is not normal.”

    “A house that is built properly can resist such an earthquake,” Piersanti said.

    The Civil Protection office’s official toll of victims rose on Friday to 295, after the death of a man who had been seriously injured in the quake. The exact date of the death was not immediately available.

    Cracks zigzag through the dull yellow brick exterior of the hospital, a complex of several wings set on the edge of L’Aquila. That belies the extensive destruction inside, where large chunks of concrete have broken off pillars holding up the structure, metal ceiling slabs hang from single cords, blocking corridors and one entire stairwell is nothing but a pile of rubble.

    One of the well-preserved areas is a modern chapel in a central courtyard built in the 1990s where just a few cracks run through walls decorated with small statuettes of Jesus bearing the cross. Otherwise, there is no rubble or other visible destruction, and the building is being used as a storehouse for blankets and other supplies.

    Roberto Marzetti, general director of L’Aquila’s state health authority, said the situation is not as bad as it seems. He believes parts of the hospital can start working again within months. He also considers it a success that the hospital managed to treat patients for six hours following the quake that struck at 3:32 a.m that day. It wasn’t evacuated until 10 a.m.

    He estimates that only a third of the hospital – an area including the emergency room – is damaged beyond repair. “The rest can be recovered,” he said, adding that he expects the least-damaged sections to reopen in about two months, and others in about six months.

    Many of the hospital staff are furious at how the building cracked and have a bleak view of the hospital ever returning to what it was.

    Sabrina Cicogna, a cardiologist who treated patients after the quake, was angry over what she sad was its poor construction and said she is terrified that its rebuilding will be plagued by shortcuts and corruption.

    “I have the great fear that strange things will happen even with the reconstruction of the city,” Cicogna said.

    —-

    Gera reported from L’Aquila and Falconi from Rome.

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  4. Quake: Prehistoric elephant OK
    Standing skeleton intact despite structural damage to museum
    (ANSA) – Rome, April 20 – Rescue workers in quake-hit L’Aquila on Monday were celebrating after finding the National Museum of Abruzzo’s famous prehistoric elephant skeleton intact.

    The beautifully preserved skeleton of the Southern Elephant (Archidiskodon meridionalis), 4.5 meters high and nearly 7 meters long, was discovered near L’Aquila in 1954.

    Workers have already removed 90% of works from the museum housed in the city’s 16th-century Spanish Castle, which suffered structural damage in the April 6 quake that killed almost 300 and left thousands homeless.

    One of the most important collections of wood sculptures in Italy as well as the museum’s modern art collection were among works already taken to safety.

    The museum is to be evacuated completely before work can begin on repairing damage, which includes the collapse of the building’s third floor.

    The Spanish government on Friday responded to an appeal to ‘adopt’ an artistic monument damaged in the quake by offering to fund the repair of the castle. Foreign ministry sources said a group of Spanish experts will assess the damage at the castle, built by the army of Charles V (1500-1558) and considered one of the most beautiful built in Renaissance Italy.

    The castle was designed by Spanish military architect Pirro Aloisio Escriva’.

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