The defendants were members of the Serious Risks Commission, a government panel that was tasked with assessing the risks after hundreds of low-level tremors had rattled the medieval town of L’Aquila, in the months before the earthquake struck.
The 6.3-magnitude quake killed 308 people in and around the town, which was largely reduced to rubble. Thousands of survivors lived in tent camps or temporary housing for months.
The prosecutors main focuses are, a Risks Commission memo that was issued one week before the big quake where experts concluded that it was “improbable” that there would be a major quake though it added that one couldn’t be excluded, and interviews members of the commission gave to local media stressing the impossibility of predicting quakes and that even six months’ worth of low-magnitude earthquakes was not unusual in the highly seismic region.
Tuesday’s hearing was largely taken up with procedural details to inscribe the dozens of plaintiffs in the civil portion of the case, which will be heard along side the criminal case. The plaintiffs are seeking some $68.2 million in damages, the ANSA news agency said. “We are looking for justice, that’s all,” prosecutor Alfredo Rossini told reporters before the hearing, ANSA said.
The case is being closely watched by seismologists around the globe who insist it’s impossible to predict earthquakes and dangerous to suggest otherwise since seismologists will be discouraged from issuing any advice at all if they fear legal retaliation.
Last year, about 5,200 international researchers signed a petition supporting their Italian colleagues and the Seismological Society of America wrote to Italy’s president expressing concern about what it called an unprecedented legal attack on science.