Seismologists in court over Italian earthquake

Six Italian scientists and former government officials are to appear in court today over charges that their failure to predict an earthquake led to hundreds of deaths.

The seven were members of the Great Risks government panel, which charged with monitoring the risk of a serious earthquake after tremors were felt in central Italy.

In April 2009, a 6.3-magnitude quake killed 308 people in and around the medieval town of L’Aquila and left thousands homeless. But, just a week before, the panel had issued a memo saying that while a major earthquake was possible, it was ‘improbable’.

They’re now being accused of committing manslaughter by giving inexact, incomplete and contradictory information.

The decision to charge the scientists has led to outrage around the world. Last year, over five thousand international scientists signed a petition supporting the Italians.

Earlier this year, the Seismological Society of America complained to Italy’s president.

“Rather than pursuing unprecedented legal action against members of the seismological community, SSA urges public officials and community leaders to work to improve the way earthquake risks are communicated to the public,” it said.

“We also urge continued proactive efforts to support earthquake science and engineering and to establish and implement local and national programs in earthquake preparedness and risk mitigation.”

Italy’s a bit strapped for cash at the moment, and the city government is asking for €50 million in damages, after large areas of L’Aquila were effectively destroyed. Many newer buildings were supposed to be earthquake-proof.