- Aug 19, 2003
Italy scientists on trial over L'Aquila earthquake
The earthquake devastated the city of L'Aquila and many surrounding villages
An extraordinary trial in L'Aquila
'Science did not do what was required'
Can earthquakes really be predicted?
The trial of six Italian scientists and a former government official for manslaughter over the 2009 earthquake in L'Aquila has opened in the city.
The 6.3 magnitude quake devastated the city and killed 309 people.
Prosecutors allege the defendants gave a falsely reassuring statement before the quake after studying hundreds of tremors that had shaken the city.
The defence argues that there is no way to predict major earthquakes even in a seismically active area.
The prosecutors accuse the seven of "negligence and imprudence... of having provided an approximate, generic and ineffective assessment of seismic activity risks as well as incomplete, imprecise and contradictory information".
Only one of the seven defendants - who include some of Italy's most distinguished geophysicist and members of the country's civil protection agency - was present on the opening day of the trial.
"I thought it was important to be here because this is my land, and I also wanted to underline the professionalism and the quality of the other public officials," said Bernardo De Bernardinis, former vice-president of the Civil Protection Agency's technical department.
"I am from Abruzzo and I owe it to the people of this area."
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Franco Barberi, head of Serious Risks Commission
Enzo Boschi, former president of the National Institute of Geophysics
Giulio Selvaggi, director of the National Earthquake Centre
Gian Michele Calvi, director of European Centre for Earthquake Engineering
Claudio Eva, physicist
Mauro Dolce, director of the the Civil Protection Agency's earthquake risk office
Bernardo De Bernardinis, former vice-president of the Civil Protection Agency's technical department
Killed in homes
The seven defendants were members of a government panel, the Serious Risks Commission, tasked with assessing the risks after hundreds of low-level tremors had rattled the medieval city in the months before the earthquake struck.
A week before the quake, they issued a reassuring statement, while also saying that it was not possible to predict whether a stronger quake would occur. They also recommended stricter enforcement of anti-seismic measures, particularly in building construction.
In the minutes of their meeting, held on 31 March 2009, Mr Bosci, the former president of the National Institute of Geophysics, is reported to have told the group that just because a number of small tremors had been observed, it did not mean that a major earthquake was on its way.
Mr Barberi, who headed the Serious Risks Commission, was also reported as concluding that there was "no reason to believe that a series of low-level tremors was a precursor to a larger event".
On the night of the quake, many people remained in their homes and died because of this advice, while others who had decided to remain outside in the street survived, says the BBC's David Willey in Rome.
The defendants face up to 15 years in jail as well as damages of 50m euros (£45m).
The case has attracted the attention of the scientific community. Last year, more than 5,000 scientists signed an open letter to Italian President Giorgio Napolitano in support of the defendants.