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Italian Court Conviction of Earthquake Scientists Prompts Outcry

October 23, 2012

Italian Quake Sentence to Have Chilling Effect, Scientists Say

A man looks for relatives in the ruins of a collapsed house in L'Aquila on April 6, 2009. Photographer: Filippo Monteforte/AFP/Getty Images

An Italian court’s decision to sentence seven earthquake experts to six years in jail for failing to predict the deadly 2009 temblor in the town of L’Aquila prompted an outcry from scientists and politicians and the resignation of a civil-protection official.

“After today, it will be difficult to appear in public and talk about seismic activity in Italy because of the possibility that researchers can face accusation over any omissions,” Professor Stefano Gresta, president of the National Institute of Geophysics and Volcanology, said in an e-mailed statement after yesterday’s verdict.

Judge Marco Billi in L’Aquila convicted the seven yesterday on charges of manslaughter for making statements downplaying the risk of the April 2009 quake that killed more than 300 people. The sentence was harsher than the four years requested by the prosecutor.

One of the condemned, Bernardo De Benardinis, the former deputy head of Italy’s civil-protection agency, told local television station Abruzzo24ore that he and the others would appeal the verdict.

Bernardinis was a member of the Commission for Forecast and Prevention of Great Risks, which five days before the earthquake had said tremors in the Aquila area didn’t necessarily indicate that a major quake was imminent.

Survivors testified that they remained home after the early tremors because of the reassuring comments by Bernardinis at a March 31, 2009, press conference, five days before the big quake.

‘Pure Craziness’

Pier Ferdinando Casini, the leader of a centrist party that supports Prime Minister Mario Monti, called the court’s decision “pure craziness” on a RAI television show yesterday.

“Italy is one of the most seismically active countries in the world, where every day there are tens of tremors, most of them not felt by the population,” Gresta wrote in his statement. “In the actual state of science, it is impossible to predict earthquakes with any certainty.”

Luciano Maiano, head of the Great Risks Commission, which advises civil-protection authorities, resigned today.

“Yesterday’s decision in Aquila is incompatible with a calm and efficient work of the commission,” Maiano said in a statement e-mailed by the civil-protection authority.

To contact the reporters on this story: Andrew Davis in Rome at; Gregory Viscusi in Paris at

To contact the editor responsible for this story: James Hertling at

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