Earthquake kills 150, displaces 50.000 in Italy
April 6, 2009 11:04 AM   Subscribe

At least 150 dead, 1.500 injuried and 50.000 displaced by a magnitude 6.3 Richter scale earthquake that struck Abruzzo and center Italy at 01:32:42 UTC on April 6th.The damage is very severe, the little village of Onna, existing since at least year 1178, was completely destroyed and the city of L'Aquila (pop 70.000) was severly damaged. The city hospital was rendered 90% unusable, allegedly 50% of all of the city buildings are now considered unsafe. Hundreds of pictures have been sent on the internet by locals, while controversy ensues on a early warning by an italian scientist (indicted a few days ago for spreading rumors about an upcoming quake), who claims that his Radon gas detectors signaled an anomaly that may have been validated by a more extensive networks of detectors and may have saved lifes.
posted by elpapacito (76 comments total)

 
Yeah the muzzling of scientist Gioacchino Giuliani prior to the quake makes the authorities look really bad:

Vans with loudspeakers drove around the town a month ago telling locals to evacuate their houses after Giuliani, from the National Institute of Astrophysics, predicted a large quake was on the way, prompting the mayor's anger.
posted by ornate insect at 11:15 AM on April 6, 2009


.
posted by Bummus at 11:33 AM on April 6, 2009


Oh, those geophysical scientists always crying wolf! Maybe if the warning were revealed to Giuliani in the form of a visit from the archangel Gabriel people would have heeded it.

Guess it doesn't matter; many of them are dead now.
posted by inoculatedcities at 11:36 AM on April 6, 2009


Wait, this guy warned a "month ago" that people should leave their houses? So...they were supposed to just abandon the city and never come back until an earthquake of sufficiently large magnitude had occurred?

There's never a large quake anywhere with sufficiently large population that some crackpot hasn't predicted, but that doesn't mean that their predictions had any validity at all. Giuliani hasn't been "proven correct" by this anymore than those loons who think they are naturally "sensitive" to earthquakes are "proven" correct by going onto the web and searching for nearby earthquakes every time they get a headache.

The problem with earthquake prediction science (if it ever becomes a science) is that it needs to be almost perfect before it is any use at all. False positives are going to be almost as devastating in their consequences (if acted upon) as the earthquakes themselves (imagine the costs--human and economic--of evacuating Los Angeles; what degree of certainty would you have to have before you'd pull that trigger?). The only really practical approach to earthquakes is to build buildings that will resist them and to hope for a short-term early warning that can give people a few minutes to get into a safety posture (under a table etc.).
posted by yoink at 11:42 AM on April 6, 2009 [10 favorites]


The only really practical approach to earthquakes is to build buildings that will resist them and to hope for a short-term early warning that can give people a few minutes to get into a safety posture (under a table etc.).

That and making sure your emergency services are shored up.
posted by orange swan at 11:49 AM on April 6, 2009 [2 favorites]


Well, that's a hell of a vindication. Reminds me of This story where one group of scientists traveled to the top of a volcano just as another group of scientists claimed it was about to erupt. (more here)
posted by delmoi at 11:49 AM on April 6, 2009


That and making sure your emergency services are shored up.

Well, yes, that too. What I mean is that passive/reactive measures are always going to trump active/avoidance measures until such time as we can deploy the Ronco NoMoreQuakes Tectonic Earth Pacifier that the aliens from planet Qxmc give us.
posted by yoink at 11:54 AM on April 6, 2009


This guy wasn't a crackpot. It is true that there is no tried and true method of predicting earthquakes. But that's not the same as saying that that there are never any indications of an earthquake. You can't predict the weather 100%, but that doesn't mean that you can't sometimes predict the weather pretty accurately. The local government doesn't seem to have realized this.

Measuring increased radon levels is an accepted form of earthquake prediction.

And what should people do? You don't know the exact date, but most people don't store water, food, and medical supplies because big earthquakes happen once every 100 years. Just knowing to increase readiness can help save lives.
posted by eye of newt at 12:02 PM on April 6, 2009


that some crackpot

I'm not sure this particular guy was a crackpot though; it looks as though his predications were based on empirical evidence.

While it's true that earthquake prediction is extremely difficult and unreliable, there must be some middle ground between ignoring or silencing all scientists who are predicting such things and following their every last prediction as if it were gospel. A better monitoring and early warning system would seem to be possible?
posted by ornate insect at 12:03 PM on April 6, 2009


(imagine the costs--human and economic--of evacuating Los Angeles; what degree of certainty would you have to have before you'd pull that trigger?)

If you watched Eli Stone, you'd already know what this is like.
You also be the only other person that watches that show.
posted by inigo2 at 12:09 PM on April 6, 2009


i think a big part of the problem is that we all grew up being told that earthquakes would NEVERNEVEREVER be predictable, much the way we were told that individual atoms would never be photographed, but it seems a number of techniques are showing some promise. (radon, huh? makes sense.) the problem is, earthquakes are such short-duration events that predicting EXACTLY when they will happen is sorta critical, but it seems like they're getting closer...
posted by sexyrobot at 12:10 PM on April 6, 2009


Mass destruction from a 6.3? I take it they don't get earthquakes very often in that part of the world.
posted by ryanrs at 12:13 PM on April 6, 2009


The thing that's most fucked up about italian authorities silencing this scientist, imho, was making him delete the data off his website. I can see them stopping him driving around and throwing people into a panic, that isn't really helping matters, but to remove the real, factual data? Stupid!
posted by Mach5 at 12:15 PM on April 6, 2009


Mass destruction from a 6.3? I take it they don't get earthquakes very often in that part of the world.

Unreinforced masonry crumbles quite easily in an earthquake.
posted by Justinian at 12:21 PM on April 6, 2009


also, as far as big earthquakes go, thank god this happened in a somewhat rural area...it could have been a lot worse...
posted by sexyrobot at 12:21 PM on April 6, 2009


ryanrs they have not infrequent earthquakes. But this is Europe, old Europe, where the newest buidings are frequently older than your oldest buildings.
posted by adamvasco at 12:27 PM on April 6, 2009


Measuring increased radon levels is an accepted form of earthquake prediction.

No, it isn't. It is accepted that there is, in certain places, a positive correlation between seismic activity and fluctuating radon levels in local aquifers over a long historical period. To suggest that this means you can go straight from "hey, look, the radon level is rising" to "everybody get out of town NOW!" is simply wrong. It means, at best, that you can go from "hey, look, the radon level is rising" to "you know, history suggests that the chances of an earthquake in the next year or so are somewhat elevated." That's not information that you can translate into an action plan.

You might like to note that your own (rather outdated) linked site begins with the unpromising claim that "Despite the amount of research undertaken over the last century, the prediction of earthquakes still remains as much an art as a science. Reports of animals behaving strangely are still regarded as accurate as more “scientific” techniques."

I'm not sure this particular guy was a crackpot though; it looks as though his predications were based on empirical evidence.

Well, the people who base their claims on headaches have empirical evidence too (their heads do, in fact, ache). I don't know if Giuliani is or is not a crackpot. He may have done a brilliant historical study on the correlation of radon levels and temblors in that specific region for the last 30 years and discovered that this region (unlike any other known region in the world) has a 1-1 correspondence between radon level fluctuation and earthquake activity. One would think that if he had, though, he'd be somewhat better known in earthquake-science circles. The fact that he's running around saying that the world owes him an apology at this point makes him look much more like a crackpot than a scientist, but I'm prepared to be proven wrong. It remains the case, though, that the mere fact of something happening after a prediction does not prove that the prediction was warranted.
posted by yoink at 12:29 PM on April 6, 2009


But this is Europe, old Europe, where the newest buidings are frequently older than your oldest buildings.

In part because our old buildings were destroyed by earthquakes. But they're also talking about hospitals being destroyed. That seems more likely to be about building codes than historical preservation.
posted by ryanrs at 12:40 PM on April 6, 2009


By the way, here's a link to an article (in German) that tells us in detail about Giuliani's "warning." He called the Mayor of Sulmona warned him that an earthquake was going to happen in a "few hours" and he must evacuate the town.

Now, there's just a couple of problems. One is that Sulmona was left relatively unscathed by the earthquake, so Giuliani was wrong about where the earthquake would hit (he wasn't calling all the mayors of all the towns in the region--he was just wrong in his interpretation of his data). And the other is that he called him over a week ago with this warning. So if someone says "the earthquake will happen in a few hours" and you evacuate, how long before you say "oh, well, we dodged that one, I guess" and move back in? So even if they'd heeded his warnings, the good citizens of Sulmona would, presumably, have been back in their houses when the earthquake hit. Not that that would have mattered, of course, because the earthquake didn't kill any of them anyway.

This story is the equivalent of those "psychic leads police to victim's remains" stories. Once you dig into it, there's just nothing actually there besides the media's desire to trot out a certain well-worn script.
posted by yoink at 12:47 PM on April 6, 2009 [1 favorite]


That seems more likely to be about building codes than historical preservation.

It's both, and it's exactly the same thing that we're dealing with here in San Francisco, what with SF General in need of a retrofit (the "new" part, which went up in the early 1970s, I think). I don't know when the Italian hospital was built, but if we pretend that it was built as recently as the 1960s, and if we further pretend that it was built in the 1960s with what was then up-to-the-minute knowledge of making buildings earthquake-safe, well, they're the same kinds of retrofits California was making at the time, and is now having to re-make, since we know much more than we did.
posted by rtha at 12:52 PM on April 6, 2009


.
posted by raztaj at 12:57 PM on April 6, 2009


Allegedly the San Salvatore Hospital of L'Aquila is not older than 15 years, trying to verify that.
posted by elpapacito at 12:57 PM on April 6, 2009


There's never a large quake anywhere with sufficiently large population that some crackpot hasn't predicted

Just so everybody's clear here...
The government on Monday insisted the warning, by seismologist Gioacchino Giuliani, had no scientific foundation but Giuliani said he had been vindicated and wanted an apology.
This wasn't Giuseppe the Butcher running around claiming an earthquake was imminent.
posted by Civil_Disobedient at 1:02 PM on April 6, 2009


Mass destruction from a 6.3? I take it they don't get earthquakes very often in that part of the world.

As others have pointed out, the structures in that area are going to be much older than in the US. Another thing to keep in mind, is that the epicenter tells you where on the surface of the Earth the quake hit, it tells you nothing of how deep it was. An earthquake's magnitude is pretty irrelevant if it's deep enough. And a pretty small one does significant damage if just at the surface.

And I just wanted to throw my own two cents in here, since I'm a geophysicist. Yoink is right on the money on this one. The problem with heeding the warning of Giuliani, as with anyone else like him, is sifting the signal to noise ratio. There are at all times tons of these folks predicting earthquakes. And plenty of them are even scientists (or at least have degrees in something somewhat related). There are enough of them doing this in high activity areas that some are bound to "predict" some earthquakes, if you play fast and loose with their predicted timing, which was the case here as well.

Research into earthquake prediction should be encouraged, sure, but it's just not possible to take the warnings of everyone who claims they've discovered the secret of prediction.
posted by Kaigiron at 1:04 PM on April 6, 2009


I was just watching something recently where they were investigating using missing pets as an indicator of upcoming seismic activity. I don't know if there is any validity to it, but it sure was an interesting concept.

When I got into work this morning one of my coworkers was really distraught, she is from this area and was worried that her family may have been affected. Fortunately a bit of calling around revealed that her kin are all fine, but some of her favorite places there are badly damaged.

Earthquakes suck.

posted by quin at 1:05 PM on April 6, 2009 [1 favorite]


Wow.
posted by ColdChef at 1:06 PM on April 6, 2009 [1 favorite]


Wait, this guy warned a "month ago" that people should leave their houses? So...they were supposed to just abandon the city and never come back until an earthquake of sufficiently large magnitude had occurred?

No, I'm thinking it would have been more along the lines of leave and don't come back until either an earthquake occurs, or the weird happenings which triggered the warning subside without an earthquake. That seems sensible to me.

One could find a more successful parallel in what happened on Mt. St. Helens in 1980. Signs of Bad Things were detected almost two months before the catastrophic eruption and evacuation orders were issued. Strange things were still happening but a number of homeowners decided to return because "nothing's happened yet". Then May 18th came, and something happened. Fortunately a good number of people had still stayed away despite it being almost two months into the evac order and the media starting to call the officials Chicken Littles.
posted by barc0001 at 1:08 PM on April 6, 2009


the German article specifies that Giuliani is an electronics engineer at the LNGS (Laboratori Nazionali Gran Sasso, a highly regarded research institute for particle physics), working on a neutrino project; according to the director of the institute, his interest in seismology is on his own initiative, using instruments not intended for this purpose. Top italian seismologist Ignazio Guerra comments that though Giuliani might well collect interesting data, its evaluation needs to be left to experts (and in his opinion, radon fluctuations are not a reliable predictor).
posted by progosk at 1:11 PM on April 6, 2009


Hm. It looks like the various seismic waves travel a few km/sec. What's the destructive range of an earthquake? How helpful would a few seconds' warning be?
posted by Pronoiac at 1:15 PM on April 6, 2009


The difference with the situation on Mt. St. Helens is that there was no controversy whatsoever among the geologists/vocanologists/seismologists that an eruption was coming. They couldn't pin it down to an exact time, but they did know that she was going to blow. And an erupting volcano is a really big deal. But again, there are many, many people predicting earthquakes all the time. It wasn't that a collection of scientists had zeroed in on this as an imminent threat. This guy was going around with a loudspeaker telling people to run for their lives. That doesn't instill confidence.
posted by Kaigiron at 1:17 PM on April 6, 2009 [1 favorite]


This guy was going around with a loudspeaker telling people to run for their lives.

Actually, the connection between Giuliani and the guys with the loudspeakers is unclear.

This wasn't Giuseppe the Butcher running around claiming an earthquake was imminent.

Actually, he kinda was Giuseppe the Butcher. The guy is a self-taught, amateur seismologist. His day job is as a physicist.
posted by yoink at 1:22 PM on April 6, 2009


His day job is as a physicist

Totally good point. What does a physicist know about forces acting on objects, anyway?
posted by barc0001 at 1:57 PM on April 6, 2009


Video of damages and rescue op.
posted by elpapacito at 2:02 PM on April 6, 2009


Totally good point. What does a physicist know about forces acting on objects, anyway?

Probably quite a lot. However the connection between increases of radon gas in aquifers and seismic activity takes rather more to unravel than simply being an expert in "forces acting on objects."

Why are people so desperate to believe in this guy? He's an amateur seismologist who predicted a quake at the wrong time and the wrong place using a method that has been known about since the 70s and known to be effectively useless for earthquake prediction for at least a couple of decades.

To top if all off, he's running around telling the world he's owed an apology when he didn't even get the prediction right. If he was holding up a big flashing sign saying "I'm a total crank" it would hardly be clearer. This guy is like all those "scientists" that anti-global-warming people love to link to, who turn out to be "scientists," yes, but not, as it happens, climatologists.
posted by yoink at 2:08 PM on April 6, 2009 [6 favorites]


Am I the only one who sees any news from Italy as a source of joy, if only because we get to hear more of her dulcet tones?

That said, the content of the news can be quite tragic.
posted by hippybear at 2:14 PM on April 6, 2009


Off-topic, but the decimal point used as both a thousands separator and a decimal separator is kind of confusing.
posted by rocket88 at 2:20 PM on April 6, 2009


Now really isn't the time for an "I told you so".

And it really isn't warranted.
posted by CPAGirl at 2:27 PM on April 6, 2009


Probably quite a lot. However the connection between increases of radon gas in aquifers and seismic activity takes rather more to unravel than simply being an expert in "forces acting on objects."

Really? What's your day job, by the way?
posted by delmoi at 2:29 PM on April 6, 2009


Really? What's your day job, by the way?

Not being a total idiot. I therefore feel 100% qualified to say that physicists are not automatically authorities in every other science that might plausibly be described as involving "forces acting on objects."

Perhaps you would care to dispute the point, however?
posted by yoink at 2:33 PM on April 6, 2009 [3 favorites]


Why are people so desperate to believe in this guy?

Well, why are people so eager to dismiss him? I have no dog in this fight, and it may well be that the guy is indeed a crank. To repeat: it may very well be that he is a crank.

However, in order to determine whether he is a crank or not one would have to spend a little more time evaluating all the relevant information: a process that would take a few days at least. To either dismiss or accept him too hastily at this point in time seems unwarranted. I can say this: if it turns out he has something valuable to add to the scientific ability to predict earthquakes, I would hope that addition would be fully explored by the scientific community at large.

P.S. The fact that he is demanding an apology does not mean necessarily that he's a crank; it just means he's a bit of a prima donna. There's a difference.
posted by ornate insect at 2:38 PM on April 6, 2009 [2 favorites]


Well, why are people so eager to dismiss him?

I'm not particularly desperate to dismiss him (although attention whoring on the back of a tragedy that he, in fact, failed to predict makes him a pretty classless guy). His data should be examined by competent scientists with relevant training in the field. It is, of course, almost certain that they will turn out not to be very useful (the radon level thing has been widely studied for decades without proving to have useful predictive power: and again his actual prediction was wrong).

What I do think should be "dismissed" is the foolish way the press is framing the story. That this guy was some kind of Cassandra who predicted the quake but the uncaring authorities failed to heed. The authorities had excellent reason not to heed an untrained amateur seismologist using a model that their actual experts told them is of no use. There's no "if only" in this story and it's crappy sentimentalism (and dangerous obfuscation of the proper governmental relationship to scientific advice) to pretend that there is. "What if" we'd listened to him? Then a town that was not, in fact, hit by the earthquake would have been evacuated a week ago. Big whoop.

Remember how we all used to say what a terrible thing it was that the Bush administration ignored their own government scientific experts and listened to outsider crackpots instead?
posted by yoink at 2:53 PM on April 6, 2009


However, in order to determine whether he is a crank or not one would have to spend a little more time evaluating all the relevant information: a process that would take a few days at least.

My understanding is that actual seismologists and geologists have already done this. Are doing this. There are ongoing radon detection studies and systems all over the world, but it seems clear that there's a lot more work to be done.

For instance: The precursors of the 15 major earthquakes during the recording period with a few service interruptions indicated that there are 0.49 to 7.40 days leading periods before the onset of earthquakes occurred within a 30 by 100-km radii ellipse. cite

And: During periods of bursts in local seismicity, some stations reflected distinctively larger background fluctuations, which hampered the correlation of the seismicity with the radon data. ... Wells that are utilized at moderate flow rates are less likely to show false alarms than wells utilized at high flow rates. Wells situated close to rock formations rich in radioactive minerals may be more likely to show anomalies than others. cite

I'm not going to dismiss him as a garden-variety "My cat ran away, and so I knew an earthquake would happen!" crank, but he's not a full-time earthquake dude, either.

I wonder how he'd feel if a seismologist from the USGS came into his physics lab and sad "Hey, I do this as a hobby, and it would be better if you did it [this] way!"
posted by rtha at 2:55 PM on April 6, 2009 [1 favorite]


yoink--one of the things that drives me batty about the internet in general and metafilter in particular is the desire for instant gratification or resolution about any potentially controversial topic.

When you write the following...

His data should be examined by competent scientists with relevant training in the field. It is, of course, almost certain that they will turn out not to be very useful...

...it's clear that the second clause is meant to undermine the previous one.

I'm glad you've made up your mind. I just wish you could be more honest about it, and leave the first clause off.
posted by ornate insect at 2:59 PM on April 6, 2009


My understanding is that actual seismologists and geologists have already done this.

Have already done what? I did not mean look at radon detection in general, I meant look at the specific data and detection this particular guy was using.

he's not a full-time earthquake dude, either.

And he may be a crank. But this kind of vague appeal to specialized authority is just so much window dressing: can we just say that we don't know yet if the guy has anything new or useful to add to seismology? Is there some imperative that we know right away how to evaluate his claims? The story is still unfolding.
posted by ornate insect at 3:05 PM on April 6, 2009 [1 favorite]


I visited L'Aquila for a conference a few years back - its a beautiful small city; to call it rural is a mistake. Just check out google image search or visit it in street view to see what it was like. Like much of Italy it had antiquities to die for & a heap of buildings thrown up over the last century, some of which seemed more solid than others. And like much of Italy some of the truly ancient stuff seemed in poor repair to my English eyes - I guess if you've got that much Roman stuff it's less important to preserve it.

I'm unsurprised that the city didn't stand up well to an earthquake though, and I hope that they have enough infrastructure in place to ensure that the many survivors are well cared for. As an adopted northerner I'm a bit of a rugby league fan and it turns out that L'Aquila is one of the few rugby places in Italy - I still remember long conversations between me and my husband and the proprietor of a rugby bar opposite our hotel, and reading today's news I find myself hoping he's OK.

The conference tour included the labs that this guy worked at. They're major physics labs underneath kilometers of rock website here. From what I remember, most of the work they do is on detecting stuff that's difficult to detect on the surface - due to interference by cosmic rays, that sort of thing. I don't know anything about this guy's specific work but the place he works is awesome and the people there seemed to be at the very top of their field. I was blown away by the environment - cathedral sized scientific experiments in massive underground caverns. One of the experiments was detecting particles that were being generated at CERN.
posted by handee at 3:07 PM on April 6, 2009


thanks for the links, elpapacito - hope you & yours are all ok, and hoping matteo, romakimmy and any other Italian mefites and their friends and family are also untouched. Sad for the people in the path and sad to see ancient towns tumbling down.
posted by madamjujujive at 3:19 PM on April 6, 2009


When you write the following...

His data should be examined by competent scientists with relevant training in the field. It is, of course, almost certain that they will turn out not to be very useful...

...it's clear that the second clause is meant to undermine the previous one.

I'm glad you've made up your mind. I just wish you could be more honest about it, and leave the first clause off.


Please just respond to what I wrote rather than what it happens to suit your argument to pretend that I wrote. I haven't "made up my mind" about Giuliani's findings. I haven't seen them. It's simply common sense, however, to say that the odds are against this being a major breakthrough. Major breakthroughs are rare in any field, incredibly rare in earthquake prediction, and it would be even more rare that they should come from someone who is a self-taught amateur in the field. I mean precisely, then, both parts of what I wrote. His findings should be examined by experts, it is possible that he has come across some exciting new insight, but one would be a great fool to bet one's life savings on that being the outcome.

But this kind of vague appeal to specialized authority is just so much window dressing

Tell me: do you make that same argument in global warming threads? Do you think it utterly unimportant that it's almost impossible to find an actual trained climatologist who disputes the broad consensus on global warming? Do you pay just as much attention to the musings of people wandering far outside their fields as you do to the people who are eminent members of the relevant discipline?

It's perfectly fair to say "you can't dismiss his arguments because he's not a trained geophysicist." The only problem is that nobody is "dismissing his arguments because he's not a trained geophysicist." What it is fair to say--and what, by a happy turn of events, people actually are saying--is that government officials should be encouraged to pay more attention to the advice they get from the leading scientists in the field than they do to people who are not in the field, regardless of how passionately those non-experts make their case. People are also saying that in general, for the non-expert, it is wiser to put one's faith in the opinions of people with relevant expertise (such as the actual seismologists who say that Giuliani is wrong) than in the people whose expertise is not relevant (such as the electrical-engineer-turned-seismologist Giuliani).
posted by yoink at 3:22 PM on April 6, 2009 [1 favorite]


I haven't "made up my mind" about Giuliani's findings.

Now you're just being dishonest.
posted by ornate insect at 3:28 PM on April 6, 2009


BBC Horizon Why we still can't predict earthquakes. [UK Only bbc - iplayer]
posted by srboisvert at 3:44 PM on April 6, 2009


vague appeal to specialized authority

It's not a vague appeal. Nothing vague about it.

He apparently predicted the earthquake a week early, and in the wrong place. Seismologists already know that it's difficult to predict an earthquake with any accuracy, especially, apparently, using the radon detection technique.
posted by rtha at 3:45 PM on April 6, 2009


"People are also saying that in general, for the non-expert, it is wiser to put one's faith in the opinions of people with relevant expertise ("

It certainly would have made a huge difference to NOLA if anyone had been paying attention. The NOAA publishes information on fire weather and storms and I used to read their fire pages all the time when New Mexico, Colorado, Arizona, were all on fire. So I was used to the way they write those warnings and reports. The one the NOAA wrote 3 days before Katrina hit was the most amazing thing I've ever read from the NOAA. It wasn't the usual 3 sentences; it was a whole page. They laid it on the line - they calculated massive loss of life. Apparently, Commander CooCoo Bananas was too busy playing his geetar for John McCain's birthday party to pay any attention.

O hell- he ignored the PDB that was titled: Bin Laden Determined to Strike in US, so there was no way he was ever going to snap to something as obscure as the NOAA warnings.

But the point about paying attention to scientists and other experts when their hair is on fire is certainly valid. Does no one actually learn from history at all?

That said - this tragedy kills me. I love Italy with all my being - every square inch of that country is a treasure and to think of that town destroyed is almost unbearable. And the loss of life is something that leaves me speechless. I love Italians as much as I love their country - they love the beauty they live with - and it's just astounding how beautiful it is. I'm heartsick.
posted by Tena at 3:45 PM on April 6, 2009


Not being a total idiot. I therefore feel 100% qualified to say that physicists are not automatically authorities in every other science that might plausibly be described as involving "forces acting on objects."

Perhaps you would care to dispute the point, however?


I never said he was automatically an authority, but he did predict an earthquake that did actually happen. But I guess in your mind an astrophysicist who does seismology on the side and accurately predicted an earthquake is an "idiot" while you, on the other hand, are not. Interesting.
posted by delmoi at 3:45 PM on April 6, 2009 [2 favorites]


P.S. The fact that he is demanding an apology does not mean necessarily that he's a crank; it just means he's a bit of a prima donna. There's a difference.

Did you miss the part where he was indicted before the quake for "spreading rumors"? It's right in the text of the FPP.
posted by delmoi at 3:52 PM on April 6, 2009


breakthroughs are rare in any field

Of course the possibility arises that the guy in question has not made a breakthrough at all, but rather has been tinkering around the edges enough to have made some potentially useful modifications to prior attempts at detection. In such a hypothetical scenario he is neither a genius nor a crank, but merely someone whose minor modification to the field warrants potential further development.
posted by ornate insect at 3:54 PM on April 6, 2009


Did you miss the part where he was indicted before the quake for "spreading rumors"?

Um, no. The comment you've lifted from me was in response to the assertion that his demand for an apology somehow suggests he's a crank. Prima facie, it suggests no such thing.
posted by ornate insect at 3:56 PM on April 6, 2009


This breaks my heart... I hope their recovery situation is handled well. Godspeed, aid workers!
posted by Unicorn on the cob at 4:09 PM on April 6, 2009


While the people of Aquila face their first night out in the cold night ( consider l'Aquila is one of the coldest cities in Italy), Paolo Berdini and Aldo Loris Rossi (univ professor in Rome and Naple) point out a few interesting facts (sorry, italian audio only).

Aquila has an history of being severely damaged by earthquakes and has been completely razed at least one time around year 1600. This last earthquake hasn't leveled only very old buildings, as one would expect, but a first glance review reveals that it also severely damaged or collapsed recent and very recent buidings. At least on the paper all the recent and very recent buildings have been built in compliance with seismic zones building codes, yet one the professor points out that strict control is needed during the actual building phase as improper or poor assembling techniques and materials may yeld structures that are compliant to standard only on paper.

As I write a new quake of 4.5 has hit at 01:25 GMT+2 and I felt it from 200Km away from the epicenter. I can only imagine how much those people need, want some strict compliance to building code.


posted by elpapacito at 4:29 PM on April 6, 2009


Sorry USGS preliminary places last shock at 5.1
posted by elpapacito at 4:31 PM on April 6, 2009


Oh crap elpapacito - bad news indeed. I know little about building and have only visited the city once (see my post above) but I did not get the impression that the "new build" was particularly stable. That could be my northern European prejudice coming out, but hey.

My thoughts are again with the guy who ran the rugby bar. Strange how conversations over a few nights a decade or so ago stick with you at times like this.
posted by handee at 4:44 PM on April 6, 2009


Terrible tragedy...my heart goes out to my fellow Abruzzese
posted by MiltonRandKalman at 5:56 PM on April 6, 2009


Now you're just being dishonest.

Well, I know at least one thing about you: that you have an entirely misplaced confidence in your ability as a mind reader.

I never said he was automatically an authority, but he did predict an earthquake that did actually happen. But I guess in your mind an astrophysicist who does seismology on the side and accurately predicted an earthquake is an "idiot" while you, on the other hand, are not. Interesting.

Delmoi, you're clearly not taking the time to actually read the thread, so what the hell are you bothering about this point for?

A) He didn't predict this earthquake. He predicted one earlier and in a town that was not, in fact, much affected by this earthquake.

B) He's not an astrophysicist. He's an electrical engineer.

C) I never called him an "idiot" (go on, do a quick Ctrl-F search on the word). I said that as I was not an idiot, I was qualified to state that physicists are not automatically qualified to render judgment in all fields that happen to involve forces acting upon objects. God alone knows why that utterly banal and self-evident claim drew your wrath down upon me.
posted by yoink at 6:37 PM on April 6, 2009


B) He's not an astrophysicist. He's an electrical engineer.

This is all you really need to know. If there's a sciencey type guy with screwy beliefs, he's disproportionately likely to be EE. I don't know if crazies are drawn to EE or if something in the course of study melts their brains but it is quite noticeable.
posted by Justinian at 7:17 PM on April 6, 2009 [1 favorite]


Interesting:
Update | 11:33 a.m. Discussion of the earthquake online, here and on Italian Web sites, has centered, in part, on the validity of Mr. Giuliani’s claim that his warnings were ignored. Readers of one blog where he discussed his findings before the earthquake, Donne Democratiche, have posted quite a few comments today. Some hailed his prescience, others pointed out that he did predict, in that interview on March 24, that what he called the “seismic swam” [sic] of smaller disturbances would decrease by the end of March. One reader named Alessandro wrote in the comments thread on Mr. Giuliani: “Sorry, but do you think there is a wonderful machine that allows you to cancel an earthquake if detected in time?” He added: “It seems to me that the original forecast was for last Sunday, not today: you would have evacuated the entire population of L’Aquila for a week, waiting that the coming earthquake?”
I don't read Italian and can't vouch for the accuracy of the translations presented here.
posted by rtha at 7:31 PM on April 6, 2009


From the "early warning" link: The following article has been retrieved from the archive and no longer contains the original video.

Apparently not so controversial that it couldn't be archived in less than 24 hours. Only five paragraphs of controversy, three of those - just one sentence. Is this even a real controversy or something a stoned reporter made up?

Also -

.
posted by IvoShandor at 12:44 AM on April 7, 2009


but he did predict an earthquake that did actually happen

For suitably loose definitions of "happen" then yes. Realistically, no. But hey, all accuracy is relative, right? This is exactly how my predictions manage to be correct 100% of the time, on any topic. It's pretty fantastic. Why I am not internationally famous is beyond me, seeing as how I predicted every single death-causing event (including traffic accidents and falling rocks), everywhere in the world for the past fifteen years.

...incidentally, there's going to be a disaster in your home district some time in the future, perhaps as soon as tomorrow (or not). If you fail to evacuate now, you will be killed! Flee! You must all flee for your lives!

Hey, why aren't you fleeing?
posted by aramaic at 6:29 AM on April 7, 2009 [1 favorite]


Arguments about predictions aside, the devastation has been tragic. The loss of life and important historic buildings is tragic. My thoughts and prayers are with the people of Italy.
posted by dejah420 at 7:22 AM on April 7, 2009


Another quake just hit l'Aquila an hour ago, clocking in at 5.3 Richter. Felt it for a good 15 seconds here in Rome; more victims and missing persons reported/expected. The current toll is 228 dead, 50 missing.
posted by progosk at 11:43 AM on April 7, 2009


Some follow up:

But Giuliani isn't the first to look at radon gas. It's been studied since the 1970s and no research has yet proven it as a reliable detection tool, scientists told Reuters.

"There isn't a definitive link between radon gas measurements and earthquake occurrence," said Brian Baptie at the British Geological Survey. "Sometimes people have measured radon gas and no earthquakes have occurred, and vice-versa."

Giuliani's forecast was far from perfect. He believed the quake would have struck the town of Sulmona, which is more than 50 km (30 miles) south of L'Aquila. He also got the date wrong, predicting the quake would strike several days earlier.

The head of Italy's Civil Protection Agency, Guido Bertolaso, told reporters that if they had listened to Giuliani, they probably would have evacuated the residents of Sulmona to L'Aquila just in time for the earthquake.

posted by yoink at 1:18 PM on April 7, 2009


Scary video of the big aftershock
posted by CunningLinguist at 2:03 PM on April 7, 2009


At this point the Radon thing is clearly a distraction or a secondary issue, as some journalist start raising the question "why did modern anti seismic house collapse" ? Still no big outcry, considering that many papers periodically run advertisement for house building companies, it's not surprising either.

One or more indipendent enquiries from Europe of U.S. could shed some light on the causes of this issue, as the public trust into local authorities and national authorities is close to zero, as many right now consider that corruption may have been the primary causes of much of the damage.
posted by elpapacito at 3:08 PM on April 7, 2009


German n-tv is quoting Berlusconi as having suggested to the tens of thousands who have lost their homes to see their situation like a weekend out camping. The video of the interview, from which the money quote has for some reason been excised, is here (direct flv here); their full article in German is here, a Guardian pick-up here.
Interestingly, no Italian paper or news site is reporting this latest gem yet...
posted by progosk at 4:07 AM on April 8, 2009


ok, here's the video including the quote, and some very angry survivors.
posted by progosk at 4:17 AM on April 8, 2009


Interestingly, no Italian paper or news site is reporting this latest gem yet...
*snort* Colour me not surprised. I'm also not surprised that he's stuck his foot in it yet again.

Why are people so desperate to believe in this guy?
Way late to the thread (stomach flu), but I can hazard a few reasons as to why he's got a lot of support from the Italian population at large. The bigger issue at the end of the day should be building codes and inquiries into why public buildings seem to be the first to fall. You've got student dorms, an entire prefecture, and a 15 year old hospital, for starters. There's already been a recent major scandal about the Abruzzo ASL (sanitary & health agency, link in Italian); I'm curious to see the results of an investigation into the construction of the hospital as well as other modern buildings that collapsed.
posted by romakimmy at 6:42 AM on April 8, 2009 [2 favorites]


Turns out the hospital was built by Impregilo, the same behemoth behind the garbage crisis in Naples (who were reinstated by Berlusconi to "solve" what they'd created), and who've been awarded the (recently re-kindled) construction of the near-legendary bridge over the Messina Strait...
posted by progosk at 8:46 AM on April 8, 2009


The Big Picture (usual warnings apply).
posted by progosk at 10:41 AM on April 8, 2009


Fun with Impreglio consiglieri. (That site's pretty nifty, in a 6-degrees-of-disgusting-power type way. )
posted by romakimmy at 11:04 AM on April 8, 2009


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