Italian scientists convicted for not warning about earthquake

12:23 PM, Oct 22, 2012   |    comments
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An Italian court has convicted seven scientists and experts of failing to adequately warn citizens before an earthquake struck central Italy in 2009, killing more than 300 people.

The court in L'Aquila Monday evening handed down six-year-prison sentences to the defendants, members of a national "Great Risks Commission."

In Italy, convictions aren't definitive until after an appeals trial, so it is unlikely any of the defendants would face jail immediately.

Scientists worldwide had decried the trial as ridiculous, contending that science has no way to predict quakes.

CBS News correspondent Allen Pizzey reports from L'Aquila that the unprecedented trial has been going on for more than a year.

The prosecution said the case revolved around one key word, "analysis," that in spite of the data the scientists failed to give adequate warning that a major earthquake might be imminent. As a result, residents of L'Aquila did not take precautions instilled in them through a long history of seismic activity in the region.

As the son of one victim put it "my father died because he listened to the state."

The quake killed 309 people, injured more than 1,500, and left 65,000 people homeless. The entire historic center of the city had to be abandoned.

L'Aquila sits atop a major fault line, much like California. "Swarms" - large numbers of fairly small tremors over extended periods - are not unusual. A spate of them hit in the weeks leading up to the 2009 quake.

The accused had to answer what seismologists say is an impossible question, will there be a major quake?

Three and half years later, the historic centre of L'Aquila is a virtual ghost town. Buildings are held together by scaffolding and steel girdles, which in many cases will only come off when the structure is demolished.

Residents who have lodged civil suits said they were less interested in seeing the accused in jail than in sending a message that they want more and better information about possible future quakes.

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