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Central Italy Hit By Earthquake After Officials Ignored Warning; 97 Dead, 40K Left Homeless

The rescue efforts are being hampered by strong aftershocks: L’AQUILA, Italy — More than 90 people died and tens of thousands were left homele

The rescue efforts are being hampered by strong aftershocks:

L’AQUILA, Italy — More than 90 people died and tens of thousands were left homeless when an earthquake with a magnitude of 6.3 shook central Italy early Monday morning, seriously damaging buildings in the mountainous Abruzzo Region east of Rome, officials said.

The Italian news agency, ANSA, quoted rescue workers in mid-afternoon as saying the death toll had reached 92. A spokesman for Italy’s Civil Protection Agency said on national television that an estimated 40,000 to 50,000 people had been left homeless.

The epicenter was in L’Aquila, a picturesque Medieval fortress hill town, where most of the deaths occurred, officials said. Aftershocks shuddered through the area, hampering rescue efforts as people clawed through the debris by hand, frantically seeking survivors.

“Some towns in the area have been virtually destroyed in their entirety,” Gianfranco Fini, speaker of the lower house of Parliament, said in Rome before the chamber observed a moment of silence.

And here's a perfect example of why you should question authority:

ROME (Reuters) - An Italian scientist predicted a major earthquake around L'Aquila weeks before disaster struck the city on Monday, killing dozens of people, but was reported to authorities for spreading panic among the population.

The first tremors in the region were felt in mid-January and continued at regular intervals, creating mounting alarm in the medieval city, about 100 km east of Rome.

Vans with loudspeakers had driven around the town a month ago telling locals to evacuate their houses after seismologist Gioacchino Giuliani predicted a large quake was on the way, prompting the mayor's anger.

Giuliani, who based his forecast on concentrations of radon gas around seismically active areas, was reported to police for "spreading alarm" and was forced to remove his findings from the Internet.

Italy's Civil Protection agency held a meeting of the Major Risks Committee, grouping scientists charged with assessing such risks, in L'Aquila on March 31 to reassure the townspeople.

"The tremors being felt by the population are part of a typical sequence ... (which is) absolutely normal in a seismic area like the one around L'Aquila," the civil protection agency said in a statement on the eve of that meeting.

"It is useful to underline that it is not in any way possible to predict an earthquake," it said, adding that the agency saw no reason for alarm but was nonetheless effecting "continuous monitoring and attention".

As the media asked questions about the authorities' alleged failure to safeguard the population ahead of the quake, the head of the National Geophysics Institute dismissed Giuliani's predictions.

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