20 Sep 2011

Scientists face trial for failing to predict quake

10:09 pm on 20 September 2011

Six scientists are set to go on trial in Italy charged with failing to predict the L'Aquila earthquake that killed 309 people in 2009.

The scientists, and one official, are charged with manslaughter. They are accused of failing to predict the earthquake and of not properly communicating the risks to the community.

The case has shocked scientists around the world: 5000 of them have signed a petition condemning the action.

On 31 March 2009, a group of scientists, engineers and local officials held a meeting in L'Aquila to discuss recent seismic activity. A series of tremors had made local people anxious, the ABC reports.

Bernardo de Bernardinis, who was then the deputy chief of Italy's civil protection department, spoke to journalists on his way into the conference.

"There is no danger," he said then. "The scientific community continue to tell me that in fact conditions are looking favourable. The intensity of the tremors is scaling down in force."

Locals advised to relax

Mr de Bernardinis went on to tell the community that instead of being concerned they should all relax and enjoy the local red wine.

Six days later, a 6.3-magnitude earthquake struck L'Aquila in the early hours of the morning, reducing centuries-old buildings to rubble, killing 309 people. and making at least 70,000 homeless.

Giustino Parisse, who lost his father and two teenage children in the quake, is one of the key members of the group bringing the manslaughter case against the scientists and Mr de Bernardinis. He says the community was misinformed and misled.

If convicted, the seven face jail sentences of up to 12 years.