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Prophet without honour

Earthquake damage in L'Aquilia

An Italian geologist who predicted the L’Aquila earthquake was reported to the police for scaremongering, according to reports. Dwain Eldred has been reading the blogs…

Geoscientist Online 7 April 2009

Giampaolo Giuliani urged people to flee their homes and posted a YouTube video explaining that he had seen a buildup of radon gas in the Abruzzi, suggesting (according to his theory) that a major earthquake was imminent.

The area is highly active seismically and several tremors had been felt in L'Aquila, 60 miles NE east of Rome, this year. Reports say that loudspeaker vans had reportedly driven around the city spreading Giuliani’s warning. The local authorities however decided to report the scientist to police for scaremongering. He was ordered to remove his predictions from the Internet. Now YouTube is running a discussion board where people can express their solidarity.
Now that he has been proved right, the politicians are taking the line that he is a maverick scientist whose credibility is low even among his peers and that his accurate prediction was just a fluke. The Italian Premier, Silvio Berlusconi, was forced to deflect questions about the warning, and whether the area should have been evacuated, claiming there was "no scientific basis" for the prediction.

Dr Enzo Boschi, head of Italy's National Geophysics Institute, also dismissed Mr Giuliani's predictions. He told reporters: "Every time there is an earthquake, there are people who claim to have predicted it. As far as I know, nobody predicted this earthquake with precision. It is not possible to predict earthquakes."

Giuliani, who works as a researcher at the Gran Sasso National Laboratory, is unrepentant and has demanded an apology. He told reporters: "People out there…should be offering me apologies… [their] conscience should bear the full weight of what has happened."

Giulani also let it be known that he has been able to predict events within 120-150km of his detectors for almost a decade. "In the last three days, we saw a large increase of radon. Large increases of radon, above safety thresholds, mean strong earthquakes."

Guido Bertolaso, who heads the region's Civil Protection Agency, hit back by pointing out that he had convened a meeting of the Major Risks Committee, on March 31. It had concluded: "No earthquake could have been forecast. The indicators were not reliable."

Boschi emphasised that the real problem for Italy was a lack of proper building regulations, in spite of the country’s well-established seismicity. "We have earthquakes but then we forget and do nothing. It's not in our culture to take precautions or build in an appropriate way in areas where there could be strong earthquakes" he told reporters.
Joe McCall writes: The biggest event on this fault line was Messina-Reggio in 1908 - estimated 160,000 killed and virtually all houses destroyed. However, in 1915, 30,00 were killed at Avezzano, only ~40km south of L'Aquila, though the event was probably largely overlooked in the middle of WW1. It seems that L'Aquila has perhaps got off lightly, despite the widespread damage and loss of life. These two cities are obviously in a very high risk part of the long fault line.