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'No L'Aquila quake risk' experts probed

Seven could face manslaughter charges

03 June, 16:52
'No L'Aquila quake risk' experts probed (ANSA) - L'Aquila, June 3 - Experts who told L'Aquila city officials there was no risk of an earthquake six days before last year's catastrophic quake are under investigation for gross negligent manslaughter, prosecutors said Tuesday. Seven people have been placed under formal investigation in connection with a March 31 meeting of the Major Risks Committee last year.

Committee members from the Civil Protection Department and the National Geophysics and Vulcanology Institute (INGV) told local officials that a series of tremors over the previous six months did not indicate a large quake was on the way. The earthquake that hit Abruzzo in the early hours of April 6 killed 308 people.

Prosecutors opened the investigation after complaints that far more people would have fled their homes that night if not for the reassurances of the Major Risks Committee the previous week.

"Those involved were highly qualified individuals who should have provided the public with different answers," said L'Aquila's chief prosecutor, Alfredo Rossini. "It was not the case that we received no warning, because there had already been tremors. However, the advice given was that there was no need for people to leave their homes".

Rossini said his office had opened the probe following numerous complaints from members of the public, who had not left their homes that night when the first tremors struck on the basis of that advice. "People died and we could not just ignore this line of investigation," he said. "The preliminary inquiries in this very important probe have now finished, and we hope this next phase meets people's expectations". The Major Risks Committee, part of the Civil Protection Department, is tasked with forecasting possible risks by collating and analyzing data from a variety of sources and making preventative recommendations. The committee includes senior figures from the Civil Protection Department and experts from a variety of fields, depending on the risk being assessed. The general opinion of those present at the March 31 meeting was that tremors of recent months, which had climbed to 4.0 on the Richter scale, did not indicate a major quake was on the way. "There is no reason to suggest that the sequence of low-magnitude tremors are a precursor to a major event," said the committee's deputy chair Franco Barberi, according to minutes of the meeting published by prosecutors. INGV President Enzo Boschi said "just because a small series of quakes has been observed" does not point to a large quake, which he described as "improbable, although not impossible". Genoa University Seismology Professor Claudio Eva said there was "a very low likelihood" of a major disturbance, although stressed that a major earthquake could never be entirely ruled out in areas prone to seismic disturbance. A statement released by Barberi on behalf of the committee after the April 6 event underscored the impossibility of predicting earthquakes. "The only thing possible is to indicate the risk of seismic activity in the area," he said. Two local officials present at the meeting welcomed news of the prosecutors' investigation, although said they had not known it was under way. L'Aquila Mayor Massimo Cialente recalled his frustration at receiving no clear reply to his repeated questions and the apparent lack of concern on the part of some present. "I well remember the words of Enzo Boschi who said, 'What do you expect? An earthquake in L'Aquila is bound to happen at some point'," said Cialente, who said he had been angered and worried by the answer. Regional Civil Protection Councillor Daniela Stati explained she had relied on the committee's advice. "That day, like all the other politicians present, we were only able to act based on what we were told by the scientists," she said. "I really hope this investigation runs its course". As well as Barberi, Boschi and Eva, those placed under formal investigation are the Civil Protection's deputy technical chief, Bernardo De Bernardinis, and 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 the National Earthquake Centre Director Guilio Selvaggi.

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