Italy must do more to reduce earthquake risk: experts

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Rescue workers survey the ruins of Amatrice. Photo: Filippo Monteforte/AFP
12:16 CEST+02:00
In the aftermath of yesterday’s 6.0 earthquake, which has left at least 247 people dead and 2,500 homeless, experts say Italy must do more do reduce the risk posed by earthquakes.

Italy is one of the most tectonically active countries in Europe and has two major fault lines.

Almost half of Italy's population of almost 60 million live in areas at a high risk of earthquakes.

“Tremors are inevitable in Italy, but an event like yesterday’s in Japan or California would never have caused the same amount of carnage,” Vincenzo Giovine, Vice-President of Italy’s National Council of Geologists (CNG), told The Local.

“We need to develop a culture of prevention in Italy. We can and should be reinforcing our buildings and developing emergency plans before disaster strikes.

“In Italy, nobody takes action until it’s too late.”

The contrasting fortunes of two neighbouring villages one of the affected regions, Lazio, underscores the benefit of proper prevention techniques.

On Thursday morning, the hilltop town of Amatrice resembled a war zone, but in Norcia, a town located just 17km from the epicentre of the devastating quake, life went on as normal.

Amazingly, in the town of 4,900 people, not a single person was injured on Wednesday morning and although some of the town's buildings were damaged in the quake, Norcia remains standing.

But why?

The town was badly hit by quakes in 1997 and 1979, in the aftermath of which, key buildings were reinforced to withstand tremors.

But given the myriad of enchanting rustic towns which dot rural Italy, is structurally modifying buildings, which are in some cases thousands of years old, really a viable option?

“It’s easily doable,” said the head of Italy’s National Council of Engineers, Armando Zambrano.

The most common intervention is to reinforce a building’s foundation in order to give the structure above a better chance of withstanding a quake.

“Years of research and our wealth of expertise mean action can be taken at costs that are not excessive,” Zambrano explained.

Obviously, making each ancient building in every Italian town earthquake-proof would cost billions of euros, which no country could afford. But with careful planning not every building needs to be modified.

“The CNG is calling for a national census, so we can understand which buildings are most at risk and then make strategic choices about which structures to protect,” Giovine explained.

It could have made a big difference in the early hours of Wednesday.

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In another Lazio town, Accumoli, Andrea Tuccio, his wife Graziella and their sons, Riccardo and Stefano, were killed as the recently restored bell tower of the town's church fell onto their family home .

Amatrice’s hospital also collapsed, making efforts to provide medical aid to those in need even more complex.

But earthquake-proofing goes beyond costly engineering projects.

Research suggests the way people behave in the first two minutes following a quake is crucial. If people take the right steps the number of fatalities can be reduced by up to 50 percent.

“Educating people in at-risk zones is simple, affordable and should already have been done,” Giovine added.

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