June 16, 2019

Italian scientists arrested for not predicting deadly earthquake

Damage following the L'Aquila earthquake in 2009. Earthquakes are anything but predictable.

Seven scientists who serve on the Italian governments Great Risks commission have been ordered to stand trial on manslaughter charges for not predicting the 2009 earthquake in L’Aquila that killed 308 people.

Judge Giuseppe Romano Gargarella, has ordered the comission members – who are responsible for evaluating the potential for natural disasters – to go on trial in L’Aquila on 20th September.

Defence lawyers have condemned the charges yesterday, saying it was impossible to predict earthquakes. Seismologists have long concurred, saying no big earthquake has been foretold.

The judge reportedly said the defendants ”gave inexact, incomplete and contradictory information” about whether smaller tremors felt in L’Aquila in the six months before the April quake should have constituted grounds for a warning.

Prosecutors focused on a memo issued after a meeting of the commission in March 2009 called because of mounting concerns about seismic activity. The memo – issued a week before the big quake – said experts had concluded a big quake was ”improbable” but could not be excluded.

Commission members later stressed to the media that six months of low-magnitude quakes was not unusual in the highly seismic region and did not mean a big one was coming.

In one interview included in the prosecutors’ case, a commission member, Bernardo De Bernardis, responded to a question about whether residents should just relax with a glass of wine. ”Absolutely, absolutely, a Montepulciano doc,” he replied, referring to a red wine.

Such a reassuring opinion ”persuaded the victims to stay at home”, the indictment reportedly said.

The 6.3-magnitude quake killed 308 people in and around the medieval town, which was largely reduced to rubble. Thousands of survivors lived in tent camps or temporary housing for months.

Defence lawyers contend that since earthquakes cannot be predicted, accusations that the commission should have sounded an alarm make no sense.

Italy is such a crazy place for earthquakes at the moment. They don’t predict earthquakes that do happen, and they do predict earthquakes that don’t happen.

Newswarped thinks there is no way these charges are going to stick. It sounds more like the judge is making a political point rather than acting on a point of law.