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Scientists who didn’t predict quake are indicted

Associated Press / May 26, 2011

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ROME — Seven scientists and other experts were indicted on manslaughter charges yesterday for allegedly failing to sufficiently warn residents before a devastating earthquake that killed more than 300 people in central Italy in 2009.

Defense lawyers condemned the charges, saying it is impossible to predict earthquakes. Seismologists have long concurred, saying that the technology does not exist to predict a quake, and that no major temblor has ever been foretold.

Judge Giuseppe Romano Gargarella ordered the members of the national government’s Great Risks commission, which evaluates potential for natural disasters, to go on trial in L’Aquila on Sept. 20.

Italian media quoted the judge as saying the defendants “gave inexact, incomplete, and contradictory information’’ about whether smaller tremors felt by L’Aquila residents in the six months before the April 6, 2009, quake should have constituted grounds for a warning.

Specifically, prosecutors focused on a memo issued after a March 31, 2009, meeting of the Great Risks commission that was called because of mounting concerns about the months of seismic activity in the region.

According to the commission’s memo — issued one week before the big quake — the analysts concluded that it was “improbable’’ that there would be a major quake, though they added that one could not be excluded.

“As we all know, quakes aren’t predictable,’’ said Marcello Melandri, defense lawyer for defendant Enzo Boschi, a scientist who heads the National Institute of Geophysics and Volcanology. In any case, Melandri contended, the panel “never said, ‘stay calm, there is no risk.’ ’’

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