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Why Things Went So Wrong in L’Aquila on April 6, 2009

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Keys to Home & Office Destroyed in the 2009 Earthquake

The debate on the earthquake in L’Aquila suddenly took the floor a few days ago as eminent scientists were found guilty of manslaughter and sentenced to 6 years. Here in Italy many had their money on an acquittal. The sentence has literally thrown not only the scientific community in an uproar but also the political establishment.

David Ropeik did an excellent job at summarizing just what happened and the blog post by Peter Coles (The Tremors From L’Aquila) shed more light on the event – but this is all seen from the outside.

Let me tell you what is looks like sitting in the eye of the hurricane…

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The floors and roof came down, the door resisted ...

The first sings of what was yet to unfold came late 2008 – it was end of November, maybe beginning December and the first tremors began to shake our city: as time progressed they became more frequent and we all began to ask ourselves – what is going to happen?

History Can Say a Lot About the Future

The earthquakes were constantly on our minds. As they increased in frequency and intensity worries increased. I recall being woken up more than once during the night – the wicked noise anticipating the shake (I was living in an apartment on the 3rd floor). In March I recall one evening meeting Patricia, she too had accompanied her daughter for her rock climbing session and it was inevitable that we talk about the ongoing seismic activities: “Well it’s good that all this energy is being released slowly” I said with an optimistic tone of voice. Patricia had a very worried and sad look on her face, looked me straight in eyes and said “well I don’t think it’s like that, this all happened before the last earthquake which devastated L’Aquila 3 centuries ago: a build up to the big one

On the morning of March 31st The “commissione” met in L’Aquila and gave no specific recommendations or indications – it was suppose to be business as usual. That afternoon a 4.1 hit us: I recall going home shortly after and finding my wife Mary cleaning up the mess: broken glass from the bottles which had fallen out of the wall unit …

That week went by and on Friday there was a piece in the local paper on what to do in case of a major earthquake. It sent the chills up my spine, I called a friend Valeriano who is an office worker at the regional government. We met that Saturday morning (April 4th) for coffee and I asked him if there was any alarm or inside information about what was going on: nothing of the sort was his answer. Just sit tight and hope for the best.

That afternoon I felt like taking a walk – Mary and I would take walks up to the city center on Saturdays but that day Mary didn’t feel like it nor did the boys, so I walked my way up to L’Aquila (as we say because the city center is on a hilltop) and decided to see good friends, husband and wife I hadn’t seen in quite some time, Franca and Claudio. First I stopped off to see Franca , she was at her daughters store in Via Sallustio and had been on pension less than a year. We had a nice chat – Then I called Claudio, a lawyer with his practice in Piazza Duomo, the central square of L’Aquila

Piazza del Duomo dell'Aquila

Piazza Duomo L'Aquila Italy before April 6, 2009

This was our beloved Piazza Duomo.

We had a few drinks – it was always very pleasant to talk to Claudio. Tha evening I told him I’d call and we’d have them over for dinner the following week.

Claudio and Franca were killed on April 6th, their building collapsed.

If there had been more of a realistic approach to what was happening would they have died? Who knows. The general sentiment is that a more responsible approach should have been taken. We know this is a highly seismic area and we must live with it or leave. This isn’t about science it’s about being responsible and truthful, as Barry Schwartz spells it out so simply in the following TED Videos. Drop a line, leave a comment – I think this is a very important discussion that should lead us back to our roots as honest and reputable professionals.