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Nation/World

October 23, 2012

Italian court convicts seven for no quake warning

(Continued)

The trial began in September 2011 in this Apennine town, whose devastated historic center is still largely deserted.

The defendants were accused in the indictment of giving “inexact, incomplete and contradictory information” about whether small tremors felt by L’Aquila residents in the weeks and months before the April 6, 2009, quake should have constituted grounds for a quake warning.

The 6.3-magnitude temblor killed 308 people in and around the medieval town and forced survivors to live in tent camps for months.

Many much smaller earth tremors had rattled the area in the months before the quake, causing frightened people to wonder if they should evacuate.

“I consider myself innocent before God and men,” said another convicted defendant, Bernardo De Bernardinis, a former official of the national Civil Protection agency.

Prosecutors had sought convictions and four-year sentences during the trial. They argued in court that the L’Aquila disaster was tantamount to “monumental negligence,” and cited the devastation wrought in the southern United States in 2005 when levees failed to protect the city of New Orleans during Hurricane Katrina.

Relatives of some who perished in the 2009 quake said justice has been done. Ilaria Carosi, sister of one of the victims, told Italian state TV that public officials must be held responsible “for taking their job lightly.”

The world’s largest multi-disciplinary science society, the American Association for the Advancement of Science, condemned the charges, verdict and sentencing as a complete misunderstanding about the science behind earthquake probabilities.

There are swarms of seismic activity regularly in Italy and most do not end up causing dangerous earthquakes, said AAAS geologist Brooks Hanson, deputy editor of the organization’s Science magazine. He said that if seismologists had to warn of a quake with every swarm there would be too many false alarms and panic.

“With earthquakes we just don’t know,” Hanson said yesterday. “We just don’t know how a swarm will proceed.”

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