Six seismologists and one government official in Italy are on trial for alleged negligence and manslaughter by failing to warn the residents of the city of L'Aquila of the earthquake that hit the area in 2009.
According to the prosecution, the scientists, who belonged to a government panel, would have minimized the significance of nearly 400 tremors that occurred during the four months prior to the 6.3 degrees Richter earthquake that killed 309 people. The next hearing of the trial will take place October 1. If found guilty they could be imprisoned for up to 15 years. On allowing the scientists to be prosecuted the judge stated: “The defendants gave inexact, incomplete, and contradictory information about smaller tremors in L'Aquila six days before the earthquake on April 6, 2009."
The seven people on trial include two prominent scientists, Dr. Enzo Boschi, former president of Italy's National Institute of Geophysics and Volcanology, and Dr. Claudio Eva, a physics professor at the University of Genova. Both were members of an expert panel that met six days before the disaster to conduct a risk assessment of the situation after the numerous tremors affecting the city.
The group's defense argues that it is impossible to predict an earthquake, a consideration universally shared by scientists. About 5200 seismologists representing the scientific community worldwide have signed a document in support of the Italian seismologists arguing that the technology to predict the time and place of occurrence of an earthquake does not exist yet, thus earthquakes cannot be accurately predicted.
The American Geophysical Union has expressed its concern that this trail could put earthquake future research at-risk. "Litigation will discourage scientists and officials from advising their government or even working in the field of seismology and seismic risk assessment," the organisation said.
G. J. Wasserburg of the California Institute of Technology, Pasadena, strongly supports the Italian seismologists: “The fundamental problem is that we cannot, with any reasonable certainty, predict earthquakes. This problem applies to many other areas as well. It follows that any statements scientists make should be moderated by that simple fact.”Dr. Vincenzo Vittorini, who lost his wife and daughter in the historical town of L'Aquila and is the founder of the association called "309 martyrs", argues: "No one expects to be told the exact time of the quake. We just wanted to be warned that we were sitting on a bomb. "
Most of the deaths were blamed, however, on the collapse of buildings that had not been constructed according to the standards required for a quake-risk region.