Italian disaster experts quit after colleagues convicted for failing to warn of 2009 earthquake

Published: Tuesday, Oct. 23 2012 2:36 p.m. MDT

People listen to the verdict at L'Aquila court, Italy, Monday, Oct. 22, 2012. An Italian court has convicted seven scientists and experts of manslaughter for failing to adequately warn citizens before an earthquake struck central Italy in 2009, killing more than 300 people. The court in L'Aquila Monday evening handed down the convictions and six-year-prison sentences to the defendants, members of a national "Great Risks Commission." In Italy, convictions aren't definitive until after at least one level of appeals, so it is unlikely any of the defendants would face jail immediately. Scientists worldwide had decried the trial as ridiculous, contending that science has no way to predict quakes.

Raniero Pizzi, Associated Press

Enlarge photo»

ROME — Four top Italian disaster experts quit their posts Tuesday, saying the manslaughter convictions of former colleagues for failing to adequately warn of a deadly 2009 earthquake means they can't effectively perform their duties.

A court in the quake-devastated town of L'Aquila convicted seven former members of Italy's so-called "Great Risks Commission" and sentenced each of them to six years in prison, prompting predictions that experts would be discouraged from working in Italy for fear of similar risks of prosecution.

Commission president Luciano Maiani and two other members resigned, along with a top official for earthquake and volcano risk in the national Department of Civil Protection. Maiani said Monday's court ruling made it impossible to work in a "calm and efficient" way.

Prosecutors alleged the defendants — who included some of Italy's most internationally respected quake experts — didn't properly inform town residents of the risk of a big quake following weeks of small tremors. But scientists have ridiculed the case, saying earthquakes cannot be predicted. The convictions are expected to be appealed.

With the verdict, "we understood why the Great Risks Commission has that name," a front-page commentary began in Corriere della Sera, a Milan daily. "The great risks are those to its members, as one deduces from the verdict."

Senate President Renato Schifani has called the convictions and prison terms "strange, embarrassing."

Many scientists and commentators have noted that the court case failed to address a major cause of fatalities in disasters like quakes and mudslides: erecting homes, schools, hospitals and other public buildings on quake-prone terrain without the proper construction techniques or materials to make the structures more resilient.

After the April 2009 quake, which left 308 people dead, many experts said that the 6.3-magnitude temblor wouldn't have caused such extensive damage if buildings been constructed or retrofitted to meet modern quake zone construction standards.

Get The Deseret News Everywhere

Subscribe

Mobile

RSS