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Italian seismologists on shaky ground


L'Aquila earthquake claimed 308 in April 2009Geologists who failed to predict the quake in L’Aquila are now under investigation for “gross negligent manslaughter” reports Adler deWind

Geoscientist Online 15 June 2010

Seven people are being formally investigated for their role in a meeting of the Abruzzi region’s Major Risks Committee on 31 March 2009, it has emerged this month. The Committee, which is part of the Department for Civil Protection, has the job of forecasting possible threats and making recommendations. At that meeting, members from the Department and the National Geophysics and Vulcanology Institute (INGV) told regional officials that the tremors experienced in the area for the previous half year were not necessarily indicative of an imminent “big one”. However, the earthquake that hit the Abruzzi the early hours of April 6 claimed 308 lives.

Prosecutors have begun work following complaints alleging that more people would have heeded a more serious warning. Alfredo Rossini, Chief Prosecutor for L’Aquila, said: "Those involved were highly qualified individuals who should have provided the public with different answers. …It was not the case that we received no warning, because there had already been tremors. However, the advice was that there was no need for people to leave their homes".

The committee's deputy chair, Franco Barberi, is reported to have concluded (according to minutes of the meeting) that: "…There is no reason to suggest that the sequence of low-magnitude tremors are a precursor to a major event". INGV President Enzo Boschi described a large quake as "improbable, although not impossible". Professor Claudio Eva (as seismologist from Genoa University) said there was "a very low likelihood" of a major disturbance – though he too emphasised that a major earthquake could never be ruled out entirely.

L'Aquila’s Mayor, Massimo Cialente, was frustrated by his inability to extract a more definite reply to his questions. "I remember the words of Enzo Boschi who said, 'What do you expect? An earthquake in L'Aquila is bound to happen at some point'" says Cialente, who also told reporters that he was “angered and worried” by the scientists’ response.

Barberi, Boschi and Eva have now been placed under formal investigation. Also under investigation is the deputy technical chief of the Department for Civil Protection Bernardo De Bernardinis, the head of its seismic office, Mauro Dolce, the Director of the European Centre for Training and Research in Earthquake Engineering Gian Michele Calvi, and National Earthquake Centre Director Guilio Selvaggi.

Invitation from the Council of the Geological Society of London

The Society's Council, meeting yesterday (June 16) regretted the above news and wishes to draw the attention of the Society's Fellows, and of all Geoscientist Online's readers, to an open letter to the Prime Minister of the Italian Republic, Mr Silvio Berlusconi.  The letter has been prepared by the Istituto Nazionale di Geofisica e Vulcanologia (INGV) and may be signed as a gesture of support to the Italian geologists now under investigation.  Please click here to read the letter, and sign if you wish.  Editor