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5 Italian officials quit in protest over convictions tied to quake warning

October 23, 2012 |  2:04 pm

EarthquakeROME -- A government official and four experts from an agency that advises Italian authorities in emergencies resigned Tuesday in protest after a court convicted seven experts for failing to give sufficient warning before a devastating earthquake struck in 2009, Italian news agencies reported.

Luciano Maiani, a physicist at the head of the Major Risks Commission, said that Monday's verdict that found six scientists and a public administrator guilty of manslaughter would make it impossible for professionals to offer impartial and specialized opinions in both the prevention and handling of dangerous situations.

Maiani quit along with three other panel members, citing “the impossibility that the Major Risks Commission can work in serenity and offer highly scientific analyses to the state in these complex conditions.” An official with the government’s Department of Civil Protection also resigned, news agencies said.

The seven convicted men, including six members of the commission and the deputy director of the Department of Civil Protection, were sentenced to six years in prison each by the panel of judges in the city of L'Aquila. The decision has been met with harsh criticism by scientists who say it is impossible to predict an earthquake.

More than 300 people were killed in L’Aquila in the early-morning temblor on April 6, 2009. The area around the central Italian city had been disturbed by tremors for months before the big quake hit.

The Major Risks Commission, which advises the Department of Civil Protection, did not adequately warn L’Aquila’s  residents about the risk of a possible earthquake, the prosecution argued, saying the commission gave “inexact, incomplete and erroneous information.”

Officials of the Department of Civil Protection told Italian media that they feared the verdict would erase years of progress and expertise in disaster prevention and that the agency would return to its old job of providing relief and rescue only after the fact.

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--Sarah Delaney

Photo: A man sits on rubble in the village of Onna, near L'Aquila, the day after a powerful earthquake struck central Italy in 2009. An Italian court Monday convicted seven scientists and experts of manslaughter for failing to adequately warn citizens before the quake. Credit: Alessandra Tarantino / Associated Press

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