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.

News
Ian Thorpe had Rio 2016 in his sights
people
Sport
Jonathan de Guzman of the Netherlands and Willian of Brazil compete for the ball
world cup 2014LIVE BLOG: Hosts Brazil take on the Netherlands in third-place play-off
News
Tommy Ramone performing at The Old Waldorf Nightclub in 1978 in San Francisco, California.
peopleDrummer Tommy was last surviving member of seminal band
Life and Style
Swimsuit, £245, by Agent Provocateur
fashion

Diving in at the deep end is no excuse for shirking the style stakes

PROMOTED VIDEO
News
ebookA unique anthology of reporting and analysis of a crucial period of history
Life and Style
Several male celebrities have confessed to being on a diet, including, from left to right, Hugh Grant, Benedict Cumberbatch and Ryan Reynolds
life...and the weight loss industry is rubbing its hands in glee
Voices
Spectators photograph the Tour de France riders as they make their way through the Yorkshire countryside
voicesHoward Jacobson: Line the streets for a cycling race? You might just as well watch a swarm of wasps
Life and Style
lifeHere's one answer to an inquisitive Reddit user's question
Arts and Entertainment
'Eminem's recovery from substance abuse has made him a more potent performer, with physical charisma and energy he never had before'
arts + entsReview: Wembley Stadium ***
Sport
Joe Root and James Anderson celebrate their record-beaking partnership
cricketEngland's last-wicket stand against India rewrites the history books
News
peopleDave Legeno, the actor who played werewolf Fenrir Greyback in the Harry Potter films, has died
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

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

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Information Security Manager (ISO 27001, Accreditation, ITIL)

£70000 per annum: Harrington Starr: Information Security Manager (ISO 27001, A...

C# Developer (HTML5, JavaScript, ASP.NET, Mathematics, Entity)

£30000 - £45000 per annum + Benefits + Bonus: Harrington Starr: C# Developer (...

C# Integration Developer (.NET, Tibco EMS, SQL 2008/2012, XML)

£60000 - £80000 per annum + Benefits + Bonus: Harrington Starr: C# Integration...

Biztalk - outstanding opportunity

£75000 - £85000 per annum + ex bens: Deerfoot IT Resources Limited: Biztalk Te...

Day In a Page

A History of the First World War in 100 Moments: Peace without magnanimity - the summit in a railway siding that ended the fighting

A History of the First World War in 100 Moments

Peace without magnanimity - the summit in a railway siding that ended the fighting
Scottish independence: How the Commonwealth Games could swing the vote

Scottish independence: How the Commonwealth Games could swing the vote

In the final part of our series, Chris Green arrives in Glasgow - a host city struggling to keep the politics out of its celebration of sport
Out in the cold: A writer spends a night on the streets and hears the stories of the homeless

A writer spends a night on the streets

Rough sleepers - the homeless, the destitute and the drunk - exist in every city. Will Nicoll meets those whose luck has run out
Striking new stations, high-speed links and (whisper it) better services - the UK's railways are entering a new golden age

UK's railways are entering a new golden age

New stations are opening across the country and our railways appear to be entering an era not seen in Britain since the early 1950s
Conchita Wurst becomes a 'bride' on the Paris catwalk - and proves there is life after Eurovision

Conchita becomes a 'bride' on Paris catwalk

Alexander Fury salutes the Eurovision Song Contest winner's latest triumph
Pétanque World Championship in Marseilles hit by

Pétanque 'world cup' hit by death threats

This year's most acrimonious sporting event took place in France, not Brazil. How did pétanque get so passionate?
Whelks are healthy, versatile and sustainable - so why did we stop eating them in the UK?

Why did we stop eating whelks?

Whelks were the Victorian equivalent of the donor kebab and our stocks are abundant. So why do we now export them all to the Far East?
10 best women's sunglasses

In the shade: 10 best women's sunglasses

From luxury bespoke eyewear to fun festival sunnies, we round up the shades to be seen in this summer
Germany vs Argentina World Cup 2014: Lionel Messi? Javier Mascherano is key for Argentina...

World Cup final: Messi? Mascherano is key for Argentina...

No 10 is always centre of attention but Barça team-mate is just as crucial to finalists’ hopes
Siobhan-Marie O’Connor: Swimmer knows she needs Glasgow joy on road to Rio

Siobhan-Marie O’Connor: Swimmer needs Glasgow joy on road to Rio

18-year-old says this month’s Commonwealth Games are a key staging post in her career before time slips away
The true Gaza back-story that the Israelis aren’t telling this week

The true Gaza back-story that the Israelis aren’t telling this week

A future Palestine state will have no borders and be an enclave within Israel, surrounded on all sides by Israeli-held territory, says Robert Fisk
A History of the First World War in 100 Moments: The German people demand an end to the fighting

A History of the First World War in 100 Moments

The German people demand an end to the fighting
New play by Oscar Wilde's grandson reveals what the Irish wit said at his trials

New play reveals what Oscar Wilde said at trials

For a century, what Wilde actually said at his trials was a mystery. But the recent discovery of shorthand notes changed that. Now his grandson Merlin Holland has turned them into a play
Can scientists save the world's sea life from

Can scientists save our sea life?

By the end of the century, the only living things left in our oceans could be plankton and jellyfish. Alex Renton meets the scientists who are trying to turn the tide
Richard III, Trafalgar Studios, review: Martin Freeman gives highly intelligent performance

Richard III review

Martin Freeman’s psychotic monarch is big on mockery but wanting in malice