Posted on behalf of Nicola Nosengo
Six Italian seismologists and one government official will be tried for the manslaughter of those who died in an earthquake that struck the city of L’Aquila on 6 April 2009.
The seven are accused of misinforming the population about seismic risk in the days before the earthquakes, indirectly causing the death of the citizens they had reassured.
The case began in June 2010, when the public prosecutor of L’Aquila pressed manslaughter charges against the participants at a meeting of the Major Risks Committee (an expert group that advises the Italian Civil Protection), held on 31 March 2009.
Those indicted include Bernardo De Bernardinis, then vice-president of Italy’s Civil Protection department, who in the meantime has become President of the Institute for Environmental Research and Protection (ISPRA); Enzo Boschi, president of the National Institute for Geophysics and Vulcanology (INGV); Giulio Selvaggi, director of the National Earthquake Center; Franco Barberi, a volcanologist at the University of Rome ‘Roma Tre’; Claudio Eva, a professor of Earth Physics at the University of Genoa; Mauro Dolce, head of the seismic risk office of the Italian government’s Civil Protection Agency; and Gian Michele Calvi, Director of the European Centre for Training and Research in Earthquake Engineering.
At the time of the 31 March 2009 meeting, seismic activity had been going on in the area for more than three months, causing alarm in the population. De Bernardinis summoned the meeting and asked the scientists to assess the risk of a major earthquake and its possible consequences. The meeting was followed by a press conference by De Bernardinis and Barberi, where the two reassured the population that the seismic sequence did not necessarily hint at a major earthquake. De Bernardinis, in particular, appeared on television saying that “the scientific community tells me there is no danger, because there is an ongoing discharge of energy. The situation looks favorable”. A major earthquake did hit on April 6 though, killing 309 people. In the aftermath, many citizens quoted those statements as the reason they did not take precautionary measures, such as fleeing their homes. According to the accusation, many people who would otherwise leave the area decided to stay, and were eventually killed in the collapse of their houses.
After several delays due to procedural reasons, in the last few days the Public Prosecutor of L’Aquila Fabio Picuti and the seven defendants have finally appeared before Giuseppe Gargarella, a Judge at the Court of L’Aquila, who had to decide whether to dismiss the case or to proceed with the trial. After listening to both sides of the story, the judge accepted the prosecutor’s request to proceed with the case and decided that the trial will begin on 20 September.
For a longer news story on the case, see Scientists face trial over earthquake deaths