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Trial delayed of scientists accused over L'Aquila quake

By the CNN Wire Staff
October 1, 2011 -- Updated 1524 GMT (2324 HKT)
The 2009 L'Aquila earthquake destroyed more than 85% of buildings in the village of Onna.
The 2009 L'Aquila earthquake destroyed more than 85% of buildings in the village of Onna.
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • A senior Italian scientist says the trial is about how information was relayed
  • Six scientists and a government official are charged over the 2009 quake
  • Prosecutors say they gave misleading information about the risks
  • The tremor killed more than 300 people and caused huge damage

Perugia, Italy (CNN) -- The trial for seven people accused of manslaughter in connection to an earthquake that killed more than 300 people in the Italian city of L'Aquila was pushed back Saturday to mid-October.

The seven -- six scientists from the Italian National Institute of Geophysics and Vulcanology (INGV) and a member of the Civil Protection Agency -- were members of a governmental panel that prosecutors accuse of giving a "rough, generic and ineffective assessment of the seismic risk" before the earthquake struck in April 2009.

The seven, members of a so-called "major risks" panel, published "inaccurate, incomplete and contradictory information about the dangers of seismic activity undermining the protection of the population," prosecutors have said.

The attorney for defendant Enzo Boschi, then-president of the INGV in Rome, told CNN Saturday that the defense had asked for a postponement of 20 days to study new documents and videos submitted by the prosecution.

The court's next hearing was scheduled for October 15.

Only two defendants, Bernardo De Bernardinis, then vice-director of the Civil Protection Agency, and Mauro Dolce, head of the seismic office at the agency, appeared in court Saturday.

Professor Domenico Giardini, current president of the INGV, told CNN the trial was not about science but about the way information was communicated.

"Since people have died, it's necessary to give an answer to the question, 'could some of the deaths have been avoided?'" he said. "The trial is basically on that, on the number of weak points in the communication chain."

He said parallels could be drawn between what happened in L'Aquila and elsewhere in the world, such as Japan. "We all have to work on new, and more clear, protocols, on the transfer of information," he said.

His colleagues on trial were "among the best scientists in the world," he added, but had taken on an extra responsibility by their presence on the major risks commission.

The city of L'Aquila has requested 50 million euros ($68 million) in compensation over the quake.

The Civil Protection Agency had organized a meeting of the major risks panel in L'Aquila on March 31, 2009, amid concern among the city's residents over ongoing seismic activity.

After that meeting some members of the commission made reassuring statements to the press.

Six days later, the magnitude-6.3 quake hit the city and surrounding areas, causing wide destruction and loss of life.

The American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) wrote to Italy's President Giorgio Napolitano in June last year to express "concern" over the indictment of its Italian colleagues.

The American Geophysical Union (AGU) also published a statement last year in which it said the criminal charges brought against the seven accused were "unfounded."

"Despite decades of scientific research in Italy and in the rest of the world, it is not yet possible to accurately and consistently predict the timing, location, and magnitude of earthquakes before they occur," the AGU statement said.

"It is thus incorrect to assume that the L'Aquila earthquake should have been predicted. The charges may also harm international efforts to understand natural disasters and mitigate associated risk, because risk of litigation will discourage scientists and officials from advising their government or even working in the field of seismology and seismic risk assessment."

Journalist Livia Borghese contributed to this report.

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