AP/Press Association Images
A devastating 6.2-magnitude earthquake in central Italy on 24 August that killed more than 290 people was the country’s largest since a magnitude-6.3 earthquake in 2009 that hit the town of L’Aquila, about 40 kilometres away. That event killed 308 people, destroyed tens of thousands of homes and a university. Controversially, it also caused six scientists to be put on trial for manslaughter.
Central Italy’s complex geological and tectonic make-up creates a notorious quake risk. The Adria micro-plate dives beneath the Apennine mountain range from east to west, creating seismic strain. The mighty Eurasian and African plates also collide here, with the Eurasian plate moving northeast at 24 millimetres per year.
The latest quake also injured hundreds and laid waste to historic villages in the Apennine mountains, including Amatrice (see ‘Epicentre of a quake’). It was a result of increased horizontal stress perpendicular to the mountain chain.
Seismologists had expected a rupture to occur near the location at any time. Still, Giulio Selvaggi, a research director at the National Institute of Geophysics and Volcanology in Rome, and one of those initially convicted of manslaughter — all six were cleared on appeal — says he was shocked by the death and destruction wreaked by last week’s quake. The mountainous region around Amatrice is sparsely populated, but the final death toll may exceed that of more populated and urbanized L’Aquila.
Selvaggi seconds a public outcry over the failure of authorities to prioritize making old buildings more earthquake-resistant and notes that his team supplies earthquake maps to them. “We scientists have made a beautiful, detailed seismic hazard map, showing clearly the areas in greatest need of preventive measures,” he says. “But public authorities don’t take enough action.”
The court case …