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Dublin: 15 °C Thursday 23 October, 2014

Italian scientists jailed for failing to warn of earthquake

Six seismologists and a government official underestimated the risks of an earthquake that struck L’Aquila in 2009.

Italian firefighters work on a collapsed stable to remove dead animals from a collapsed stable in L'Aquila, where an earthquake in 2009 killed 309 people.
Italian firefighters work on a collapsed stable to remove dead animals from a collapsed stable in L'Aquila, where an earthquake in 2009 killed 309 people.
Image: SANDRO PEROZZI/AP

SIX ITALIAN SEISMOLOGISTS and a government official have each been sentenced to six years in jail by a court, for failing to warn the public about the prospect of a major earthquake which killed 309 people three years ago.

The court in L’Aquila, where the quake hit in 2009, sentenced all seven members of the national Major Risks Committee to jail because of their failure to warn the general population about the impact that the quake could have.

The sentence exceeds the four year sentence that had been sought by prosecutors.

The seven members of the committee had met in L’Aquila six days before the April 2009 earthquake to discuss recent minor seismic activity – but had not alerted the town’s population to the risk of the major quake that could have followed.

A lawyer for 11 survivors of the quake said the seismologists “were not expected to predict the earthquake, but they were expected to alert people to the risks.”

The government committee’s meeting in 2009 came after a local resident began making unnerving unofficial earthquake predictions, following the earlier minor tremors.

Italy’s top seismologists were called in to evaluate the situation and the then vice-director of the Civil Protection, Bernardo De Bernardinis, gave press interviews saying the seismic activity in L’Aquila posed “no danger.”

“The scientific community continues to assure me that, to the contrary, it’s a favourable situation because of the continuous discharge of energy,” he said.

The claim that shocks discharge energy and reduce quake risks has been disputed and the scientists deny having told Bernardinis anything of the sort.

The prosecution has accused Bernardinis of using the meeting to calm the population – he famously advised residents to relax with a glass of wine.

Additional reporting by AFP

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