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Seven scientists and other experts went on trial on manslaughter charges Tuesday for allegedly failing to sufficiently warn residents before a devastating 2009 earthquake that killed more than 300 people in central Italy.
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. The Seismological Society of America wrote to Italy’s president expressing concern about what it called an unprecedented legal attack on science.
The seven defendants are accused of giving “inexact, incomplete and contradictory information” about whether smaller tremors felt by L’Aquila residents in the six months before the April 6, 2009, quake should have constituted grounds for a quake warning.
“We all know well that earthquakes cannot be predicted. This is not in the point here,” said Vincenzo Vittorini, a relative of a victim, who attended the trial.
Rather, he said, because of the failure of the scientists to say a significant quake could be possible, victims and their relatives missed a chance to take preventive measures.
The 6.3-magnitude temblor killed 308 people in and around the medieval town of L’Aquila, which was largely reduced to rubble. Thousands of survivors lived in tent camps or temporary housing for months.