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Earthquake statement leads to charges

disclaimer: image is for illustration purposes only
by Staff Writers
L'Aquila, Italy (UPI) May 27, 2011
Six Italian seismologists will be tried for manslaughter as a result of deaths in an earthquake that struck the city of L'Aquila in April 2009, authorities said.

An Italian government official has also been charged.

The seven were on a committee gauging the risk associated with recent increases in seismic activity in the area, and a week before the quake, some members of the group publicly declared there was no danger, an article in Nature magazine reported.

In the aftermath of the quake, in which 309 people died, many residents claimed the public announcement was the reason they did not take precautionary measures in advance of the magnitude-6.3 quake.

As a consequence, the public prosecutor of L'Aquila brought manslaughter charges, saying the committee's risk assessment resulted in "incomplete, imprecise and contradictory public information."

While acknowledging that committee members had no way of predicting the earthquake, he accused them going beyond scientific uncertainty to an overly optimistic message.

At the center of the accusations is a statement made at a news conference on March 31, 2009, by Bernardo De Bernardinis, who was deputy technical head of Italy's Civil Protection.

"The scientific community tells me there is no danger," he said, "because there is an ongoing discharge of energy. The situation looks favorable."

That statement does not appear in the record of the meeting that preceded the news conference and was later criticized as having no scientific foundation by seismologists, including Enzo Boschi, president of the National Institute of Geophysics and Vulcanology, who is one of the accused.

Much of the trial is expected to concern itself with the origin and impact of De Bernardinis' statement.

A judge has set a trial date of Sept. 20.

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