L’Aquila, Italy earthquake: scientists sentenced, Berlusconi free

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

This video from the USA is called Italian Scientists Convicted Over Earthquake Prediction.

By Marianne Arens:

L’Aquila, Italy earthquake: Long sentences for seismologists

9 November 2012

On October 22, six seismologists and a government official were sentenced to six years in prison by a court in L’Aquila, Italy on multiple charges of manslaughter. The judges ruled that they had violated their duty to correctly inform the public about the risks of an impending earthquake. The judgment is not yet final and subject to revision.

The trial dealt with the events surrounding the catastrophic earthquake which took place on April 6, 2009 in the region of Abruzzia. The earthquake, which measured 6.3 on the Richter scale, killed 309 people in L’Aquila, including many children and adolescents. Some 1,500 people were injured and 67,000 were made homeless. The historic center of the city has still not been rebuilt. Damage was also substantial in other towns and villages in the region.

The verdict provoked anger in Italy and worldwide. Broad sections of the media and leading academic bodies such as the American Geophysical Association and the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) expressed their solidarity with the convicted seismologists. In Italy, a number of leading scientists resigned their posts in protest. On the same evening as the verdict, the physicist Luciano Maiani resigned as president of the State Risk Commission.

More than 5,000 scientists had already protested in an open letter to Italian President Giorgio Napolitano at the start of the trial in September 2011. They argued that it is impossible to precisely predict an earthquake and referred to earthquake maps and guidelines for quake-resistant construction long in possession of the government. They called on politicians to take steps to improve earthquake prevention, “rather than punishing scientists for failing to do a job beyond their power: predicting earthquakes.” …

The harsh sentences against Boschi and his co-defendants for manslaughter are a legal travesty. It makes the scientists scapegoats aimed at diverting attention away from those really responsible, i.e. the former government of Silvio Berlusconi, corrupt authorities, criminal building companies and property speculators.

Although the seismic risk at L’Aquila was known and strict building codes existed, they apparently had been systematically ignored or bypassed by corrupt construction companies. The earthquake not only destroyed many old buildings, but also a number of newly constructed public buildings, although others in the immediate vicinity remained intact. Among the buildings to collapse were a new hospital and a student hostel, which had both been financed by public money. The collapse of these buildings was a clear indication of botched construction and the use of inferior materials.

These issues, however, were not even investigated, let alone made the subject of a trial. Proposals for stricter laws and controls have also failed to materialize due to the powerful lobby of major construction companies and real estate speculators. Up to the present day all governments, including the current regime of Mario Monti, have failed to introduce measures appropriate for an earthquake-prone region.

Prior to the 2009 quake, the government of Silvio Berlusconi and regional authorities had pursued an appeasement strategy aimed at lulling the population and avoiding the high costs involved in securing buildings and evacuation procedures. It was this huge mesh of political irresponsibility and corruption which meant that the earthquake on April 6, 2009, which had been anticipated for a long time, had such a devastating impact.

The seven convicted scientists, most of whom are internationally recognized authorities in their fields, are being made the scapegoats for widespread bitterness within the population, while those genuinely responsible get off scot-free.

The residents of the earthquake-stricken region are still waiting for support and assistance. Shortly after the quake Berlusconi convened a photo-op G-8 summit in L’Aquila and the authorities hastily assembled temporary constructions outside the city. The center of the city remains devastated, however, with an above average number of people unemployed. Hopelessness and rage have erupted on a number of occasions, and the people of L’Aquila have protested several times in Rome.

The trial failed to establish that any of the defendants had made statements against their better judgment or for personal gain. In fact, Italian scientists have repeatedly presented governments and political leaders with recommendations for seismic protection measures and assembled a wealth of material—including hazard maps, guidelines for earthquake-resistant construction, and evacuation plans—which successive governments have failed to implement.

The danger arising from the judgment in L’Aquila is that in future, scientists will withhold their findings, fearful of the legal consequences.

7 thoughts on “L’Aquila, Italy earthquake: scientists sentenced, Berlusconi free

    • It reminds me a bit about stories on medieval kings having soothsayers beheaded for not predicting outcomes of battles correctly. Not that geologists are on the level of soothsayers; but predicting earthquakes is not exact science yet.


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