Town 'ignored warning' of imminent earthquake

view gallery VIEW GALLERY

As Italy reeled yesterday from a powerful earthquake that killed at least 179 people and flattened entire towns while people slept, a seismologist who claimed he could have given up to 24 hours notice of the disaster said his repeated warnings had been ignored.

Emergency workers were still hunting frantically for survivors last night in the medieval city of L'Aquila, near the epicentre of the quake, and in scores of surrounding villages across the mountainous Abruzzo region in the country's centre There were reports that one team had rescued at least 60 people from the rubble.

More than 1,500 people are thought to have been injured and up to 17,000 left homeless. Dozens of people are missing and officials said the death toll was likely to rise significantly.

But even as Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi declared an emergency and promised a record number of rescue teams, a bitter row was raging over whether lives could have been saved by evacuating homes before the quake struck at 3.32am. The quake measured 5.8 on the Richter Scale, according to the Italian National Institute of Geophysics. The US Geological Survey measured it as 6.3.

A flurry of earth tremors struck the L'Aquila area in mid-January, prompting Giampaolo Giuliani, a researcher at the National Institute of Nuclear Physics, whose laboratories are deep beneath the Gran Sasso mountain on L'Aquila's skyline to sound the alarm.

In interviews before the earthquake struck he claimed that he had developed an early warning system based not on seismic waves but on radon which is only expelled from the earth under intense pressure.

After his warnings, vans with megaphones toured L'Aquila urging people to leave their homes. But the mayor, Massimo Cialente, allegedly served the seismologist with a warning of criminal charges for scare-mongering, even though the region had experienced nine tremors since the start of April.

"Now there are people who have to apologise to me and who will have what has happened on their conscience," Mr Giuliani told La Repubblica. The expert said he was helpless to act as it became clear to him on Sunday that a quake was imminent. "I didn't know who to turn to, I had been put under investigation for saying there was going to be an earthquake."

Mr Berlusconi, who cancelled a trip to Russia to fly to the disaster zone, appeared on the defensive when asked about official complacency.

Now was the time to concentrate on relief efforts he said, and "we can discuss afterwards about the predictability of earthquakes".

In the centre of L'Aquila piles of rubble, cement, furniture and roof tiles were strewn on the ground. Grey dust carpeted the streets and covered parked cars. The roof of the cupola on one of the churches on the Piazza Duomo was completely gone.

Local people told of the horror of finding their city falling away beneath them in the night. "I woke up hearing what sounded like a bomb," Angela Palumbo, 87, said. "We managed to escape with things falling all around us. Everything was shaking, furniture falling. I don't remember ever seeing anything like this in my life."

In L'Aquila alone, 30,000 buildings were thought to have been affected.

Outside one collapsed four-storey apartment building, dozens of rescue workers were digging both with heavy equipment and bare hands. Every now and then they ordered the machines to stop so they could hear human voices – they had heard a young woman named Francesca buried beneath urging them to "hurry up", they said.

Scenes of grief and despair played out across the city as dazed survivors, some still in their underwear, others wearing pyjamas and slippers, wept or sought out family members.

Parts of the main hospital had to be evacuated because of fears of collapse and injuries had to be treated in the open air. As the city trembled repeatedly with aftershocks, one woman, whose sister was still trapped inside the ruins of a building cried out: "Enough God! Enough! Enough of these earthquakes."

About 5km away, in Paganica, all 8,000 residents had been evacuated and the small 18th century Church of the Immaculate Conception had a gaping hole in the roof, another in the centre on the façade, and its bells askew.

In Bazzano, relief workers were distributing pizza, water and soft drinks to the hungry, dusty locals. Nicoletta Tarquini, 78, looked lost as she sat in her purple pyjamas, crying. She said she didn't know when she would have the courage to return home.

Last night, rain was complicating rescue efforts but one firefighter in L'Aquila, Antonio Giangiobbe, had a miracle to report. He had been working from 10.30am on a building: "We knew there was somebody alive in there, and after digging for eight hours we pulled her out. "A wardrobe had fallen on her, protecting her from the two floors of debris that fell on top. She was calm but said, 'Hurry up hurry up, because I can feel the pressure on my legs.' She had been protected by the wardrobe."

Seismic events: Italian earthquakes

8 September 1905 Some 5,000 people killed when a 7.9 magnitude earthquake tears through Calabria, obliterating 25 villages.

28 December 1908 More than 82,000 people killed in a 7.2 magnitude earthquake which reduces Messina, Sicily's second town, to rubble. A tidal wave follows, causing more devastation.

13 January 1915 An earthquake measuring 7.0 strikes Avezzano in central Italy and kills 32,600.

27 July 1930 A quake measuring 6.5 strikes the region of Irpinia in southern Italy, killing about 1,400 people.

6 May 1976 An earthquake measuring 6.5 rocks Friuli in Italy's northeastern corner, killing 976 people and leaving 70,000 others homeless.

23 November 1980 Some 2,735 people are killed and more than 7,500 injured in an earthquake measuring 6.5. The epicentre is at Eboli but damage is reported over a huge area towards Naples.

13 December 1990 Earthquake centred in the sea off Sicily kills 13 people and injures 200.

26 September 1997 Two earthquakes measuring 6.4 kill 11 people and cause serious damage to the Basilica of St Francis in Assisi, ruining priceless medieval frescoes. A further quake measuring 5.1 hits Umbria days later causing damage.

6 September 2002 An earthquake measuring 6.0 strikes Sicily. Two people died from heart attacks triggered by the quake which also damaged artistic treasures.

31 October 2002 An earthquake measuring 5.9 hits Campobasso, south-central Italy, killing 30 people, most of them children, in San Giuliano di Puglia.

11 April 2003 An earthquake measuring 4.6 rocks northern Italy, rattling buildings from Milan to Turin and prompting officials to evacuate some schools.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
ebooks
ebooksAn introduction to the ground rules of British democracy
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
SPONSORED FEATURES
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Front of House Team Member

£18000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This strategic outsourcing and energy se...

Recruitment Genius: IT Support Engineer

£18000 - £26000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an opportunity for an I...

Recruitment Genius: Project Assistant

£17000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: They are a leading company in the field ...

Recruitment Genius: DBA Developer - SQL Server

£30000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity...

Day In a Page

Turkey-Kurdish conflict: Obama's deal with Ankara is a betrayal of Syrian Kurds and may not even weaken Isis

US betrayal of old ally brings limited reward

Since the accord, the Turks have only waged war on Kurds while no US bomber has used Incirlik airbase, says Patrick Cockburn
VIPs gather for opening of second Suez Canal - but doubts linger over security

'A gift from Egypt to the rest of the world'

VIPs gather for opening of second Suez Canal - but is it really needed?
Jeremy Corbyn dresses abysmally. That's a great thing because it's genuine

Jeremy Corbyn dresses abysmally. That's a great thing because it's genuine

Fashion editor, Alexander Fury, applauds a man who clearly has more important things on his mind
The male menopause and intimations of mortality

Aches, pains and an inkling of mortality

So the male menopause is real, they say, but what would the Victorians, 'old' at 30, think of that, asks DJ Taylor
Man Booker Prize 2015: Anna Smaill - How can I possibly be on the list with these writers I have idolised?

'How can I possibly be on the list with these writers I have idolised?'

Man Booker Prize nominee Anna Smaill on the rise of Kiwi lit
Bettany Hughes interview: The historian on how Socrates would have solved Greece's problems

Bettany Hughes interview

The historian on how Socrates would have solved Greece's problems
Art of the state: Pyongyang propaganda posters to be exhibited in China

Art of the state

Pyongyang propaganda posters to be exhibited in China
Mildreds and Vanilla Black have given vegetarian food a makeover in new cookbooks

Vegetarian food gets a makeover

Long-time vegetarian Holly Williams tries to recreate some of the inventive recipes in Mildreds and Vanilla Black's new cookbooks
The haunting of Shirley Jackson: Was the gothic author's life really as bleak as her fiction?

The haunting of Shirley Jackson

Was the gothic author's life really as bleak as her fiction?
Bill Granger recipes: Heading off on holiday? Try out our chef's seaside-inspired dishes...

Bill Granger's seaside-inspired recipes

These dishes are so easy to make, our chef is almost embarrassed to call them recipes
Ashes 2015: Tourists are limp, leaderless and distinctly UnAustralian

Tourists are limp, leaderless and distinctly UnAustralian

A woefully out-of-form Michael Clarke embodies his team's fragile Ashes campaign, says Michael Calvin
Blairites be warned, this could be the moment Labour turns into Syriza

Andrew Grice: Inside Westminster

Blairites be warned, this could be the moment Labour turns into Syriza
HMS Victory: The mystery of Britain's worst naval disaster is finally solved - 271 years later

The mystery of Britain's worst naval disaster is finally solved - 271 years later

Exclusive: David Keys reveals the research that finally explains why HMS Victory went down with the loss of 1,100 lives
Survivors of the Nagasaki atomic bomb attack: Japan must not abandon its post-war pacifism

'I saw people so injured you couldn't tell if they were dead or alive'

Nagasaki survivors on why Japan must not abandon its post-war pacifism
Jon Stewart: The voice of Democrats who felt Obama had failed to deliver on his 'Yes We Can' slogan, and the voter he tried hardest to keep onside

The voter Obama tried hardest to keep onside

Outgoing The Daily Show host, Jon Stewart, became the voice of Democrats who felt the President had failed to deliver on his ‘Yes We Can’ slogan. Tim Walker charts the ups and downs of their 10-year relationship on screen