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EARTHQUAKES

Anger in Italy as judge blames L’Aquila quake victims for own deaths

An Italian court ruled on Wednesday that some of the victims of the 2009 L'Aquila earthquake were partly to blame for their own deaths and compensation for their relatives should be reduced, media reports said.

L'Aquila earthquake - rubble
A 6.3-magnitude earthquake struck L’Aquila on April 6th 2009, killing 309 people and injuring 1,600. Photo by Filippo MONTEFORTE / AFP

The 6.3-magnitude earthquake struck at 3.32 am on April 6th 2009, after months of tremors across the rugged Abruzzo region in central Italy. Houses collapsed throughout L’Aquila’s historic city centre, killing 309 people.

The judge in a civil suit for millions of euros in damages, presented by relatives of 24 people who died in one of the buildings, the judge said that the victims had gone back to bed despite two tremors earlier in the night.

READ ALSO: Which areas of Italy have the highest risk of earthquakes?

That “rash behaviour” made them “30 percent responsible” for their deaths, she said, according to Italian newspaper Il Messaggero.

Maria Grazia Piccinini, a lawyer and mother of Ilaria Rambaldi, a 25-year-old student who died in the earthquake, said that Tuesday’s ruling was “absurd” considering that experts had played down fears of a killer quake in the previous weeks.

A photo from 2018 shows ongoing reconstruction efforts in L’Aquila following the 2009 earthquake. Photo by TIZIANA FABI / AFP

“My daughter was reassured, just like everyone else,” Piccinini told the Corriere della Sera daily, adding that they would be appealing the ruling.

There were angry reactions to the ruling from Italian social media users and media commentators, with many describing the judge’s statement as “victim blaming”.

Seven members of Italy’s Major Risks Prevention Commission were initially convicted over advice given to residents before the disaster, though all but one of those would later be overturned.

The quake, which reduced L’Aquila’s elegant medieval, Renaissance and Baroque squares and buildings to rubble, left 1,600 people injured and at least 80,000 people homeless.

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EARTHQUAKES

MAP: Which parts of Italy have the highest risk of earthquakes?

Italy is known for being prone to earthquakes, but some areas of the country are at higher risk than others.

MAP: Which parts of Italy have the highest risk of earthquakes?

A 5.7-magnitude earthquake rocked Italy’s central Marche region on Wednesday and, though no serious damage to people or buildings was reported, it reminded residents that quakes are an inescapable part of life in Italy. 

In fact Italy has been hit by more than 30,000 medium to strong earthquakes (i.e. any event greater than grade IV on the Mercalli scale) over the past 2,500 years, and as many as seven earthquakes with a magnitude of 6.5 or more in the 20th century alone. 

READ ALSO: Italy’s Marche region rocked by strong 5.7 earthquake off Adriatic coast

Due to its peculiar geological position – the boot lies right where the African tectonic plate converges with the Eurasian plate – Italy’s territory is “seismic in its entirety”, according to the country’s Civil Protection Department.

But some parts of the country are at a greater risk of experiencing earthquakes than others.

Italy’s National Institute for Geophysics and Volcanology (INGV) estimates that the “strongest earthquakes […] are expected in Calabria, south-eastern Sicily, Friuli Venezia-Giulia and along the central and southern Apennines”. 

However there’s also significant risk in Puglia’s Salento peninsula, the Tyrrhenian coast of both Tuscany and Lazio, the Po Plain and the Alpine range, the institute states.

As for low-risk areas, Sardinia is the Italian region with the lowest seismic hazard.

Seismic risk across Italy

Variations in seismic risk levels across Italy. Photo by National Institute for Geophysics and Volcanology (INGV).

The map above shows the variation in risk levels across Italy. Lower-risk areas are shown in light blue, green or yellow. Areas with a greater seismic hazard are orange, red or purple.

‘Seismic hazard’ (pericolosità sismica) is the main parameter used by authorities to gauge the risk of earthquakes in a certain area. This looks at the frequency and power of the quakes that hit a specific area over a set period of time. 

Essentially, the more frequent and the more powerful seismic events are, the greater the seismic hazard in the area.

It’s worth noting that the term ‘seismic hazard’ is not equivalent to what is commonly referred to as ‘seismic risk’, which is an overall assessment that takes several parameters into account, only one of them being seismic hazard (more on this below).

Other parameters

While seismic hazard is the most commonly used parameter when it comes to assessing the risk of earthquakes in a certain area, authorities take other factors into account. 

Italy’s Civil Protection Department also looks at an area’s ‘vulnerability’ (vulnerabilità), i.e. the propensity of the area’s buildings to be severely damaged by a quake, and ‘exposure’ (esposizione), meaning the total number of people and assets that would be endangered by a seismic event in the area in question.

A statue destroyed by an earthquake in Pennisi, Sicily.

Italy has high seismic vulnerability, meaning that its infrastructure is likely to be severely damaged in the event of an earthquake. Photo by Giovanni ISOLINO / AFP

According to the Civil Protection Department, Italy doesn’t just have a “medium-high seismic hazard” but also “high vulnerability” due to the fragility of its infrastructure and “very high exposure” on account of the country’s population density and the many historical and artistic assets found across the territory.   

When combined, these three factors (seismic hazard, vulnerability, exposure) allow for a comprehensive assessment of a country’s overall seismic risk.

In Italy’s case, the peninsula has “a high seismic risk”, with quakes likely to result in loss of human life and significant damage to local infrastructure. 

Without accounting for damage to historical and artistic assets, the economic cost of damage caused by seismic events over the last 40 years in Italy is estimated at around 80 billion euros.

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