Vittorini, a 48-year-old surgeon who has lived in L'Aquila all his life, will never forgive himself for breaking with that tradition on the night of 5 April 2009. After hundreds of low-level tremors over several months, L'Aquila shook with a strong, magnitude-3.9 tremor shortly before 11 p.m. on that Palm Sunday evening. Vittorini debated with his wife Claudia and his terrified nine-year-old daughter Fabrizia whether to spend the rest of the night outside. Swayed by what he describes as "anaesthetizing" public assurances by government officials that there was no imminent danger, and recalling scientific statements claiming that each shock diminished the potential for a major earthquake, he persuaded his family to remain in their apartment on Via Luigi Sturzo. All three of them were huddled together in the master bed when, at 3:32 a.m. on 6 April, a devastating magnitude-6.3 earthquake struck the city.
To this difficult exercise in risk probability was added a wild card in the case of L'Aquila: a resident named Giampaolo Giuliani began to make unofficial earthquake predictions on the basis of measurements of radon gas levels. Giuliani, who had worked for 40 years as a laboratory technician, including 20 years at the nearby Gran Sasso National Laboratory until his retirement in 2010, had deployed four home-made radon detectors throughout the region.
That same day, L'Aquila was hit by an intense, magnitude 4.1 shock in the afternoon that deeply rattled local residents. Vittorini, who performs his surgeries in the nearby town of Popoli, received an anguished call from his wife and son. (His daughter was not at home at the time.) He urged them to leave the house immediately and get outside, he says. L'Aquila's mayor, Massimo Cialente, ordered the evacuation of several public buildings and closed the De Amicis primary school to inspect for structural damage.
The now-famous commission meeting convened on the evening of 31 March in a local government office in L'Aquila. Boschi, who had travelled by car to the city with two other scientists, later called the circumstances "completely out of the ordinary". Commission sessions are usually closed, so Boschi was surprised to see nearly a dozen local government officials and other non-scientists attending the brief, one-hour meeting, in which the six scientists assessed the swarms of tremors that had rattled the local population. When asked during the meeting if the current seismic swarm could be a precursor to a major quake like the one that levelled L'Aquila in 1703, Boschi said, according to the meeting minutes: "It is unlikely that an earthquake like the one in 1703 could occur in the short term, but the possibility cannot be totally excluded." The scientific message conveyed at the meeting was anything but reassuring, according to Selvaggi. "If you live in L'Aquila, even if there's no swarm," he says, "you can never say, 'No problem.' You can never say that in a high-risk region." But there was minimal discussion of the vulnerability of local buildings, say prosecutors, or of what specific advice should be given to residents about what to do in the event of a major quake. Boschi himself, in a 2009 letter to civil-protection officials published in the Italian weekly news magazine L'Espresso, said: "actions to be undertaken were not even minimally discussed".
Many people in L'Aquila now view the meeting as essentially a public-relations event held to discredit the idea of reliable earthquake prediction (and, by implication, Giuliani) and thereby reassure local residents. Christian Del Pinto, a seismologist with the civil-protection department for the neighbouring region of Molise, sat in on part of the meeting and later told prosecutors in L'Aquila that the commission proceedings struck him as a "grotesque pantomine". Even Boschi now says that "the point of the meeting was to calm the population. We [scientists] didn't understand that until later on."
What happened outside the meeting room may haunt the scientists, and perhaps the world of risk assessment, for many years. Two members of the commission, Barberi and De Bernardinis, along with mayor Cialente and an official from Abruzzo's civil-protection department, held a press conference to discuss the findings of the meeting. In press interviews before and after the meeting that were broadcast on Italian television, immortalized on YouTube and form detailed parts of the prosecution case, De Bernardinis said that the seismic situation in L'Aquila was "certainly normal" and posed "no danger", adding that "the scientific community continues to assure me that, to the contrary, it's a favourable situation because of the continuous discharge of energy". When prompted by a journalist who said, "So we should have a nice glass of wine," De Bernardinis replied "Absolutely", and urged locals to have a glass of Montepulciano.
That message, whatever its source, seems to have resonated deeply with the local population. "You could almost hear a sigh of relief go through the town," says Simona Giannangeli, a lawyer who represents some of the families of the eight University of L'Aquila students who died when a dormitory collapsed. "It was repeated almost like a mantra: the more tremors, the less danger." "That phrase," in the opinion of one L'Aquila resident, "was deadly for a lot of people here."
As part of the prosecution's case, Picuti argues in his brief that local residents made fateful decisions on the night of the earthquake on the basis of statements made by public officials outside the meeting. Maurizio Cora, a lawyer who lived not far from Vittorini, told prosecutors that after the 30 March shock, he and his family retreated to the grounds of L'Aquila's sixteenth-century castle; after the 11 p.m. foreshock on 5 April, he said his family "rationally" discussed the situation and, recalling the reassurances of government officials that the tremors would not exceed those already experienced, decided to remain at home, "changing our usual habit of leaving the house when we felt a shock". Cora's wife and two daughters died when their house collapsed.
If you were to drain the water out of the Pacific Ocean, you would see a series of deep ocean trenches that run parallel to corresponding volcanic arcs along the Ring of Fire. These arcs create both islands and continental mountain ranges.
"For countless ages the hot nebula whirled aimlessly throughspace. At length it began to take shape, the central mass threwoff planets, the planets cooled, boiling seas and burningmountains heaved and tossed, from black masses of cloud hotsheets of rain deluged the barely solid crust. And now the firstgerm of life grew in the depths of the ocean, and developedrapidly in the fructifying warmth into vast forest trees, hugeferns springing from the damp mould, sea monsters breeding,fighting, devouring, and passing away. And from the monsters, asthe play unfolded itself, Man was born, with the power ofthought, the knowledge of good and evil, and the cruel thirst forworship. And Man saw that all is passing in this mad, monstrousworld, that all is struggling to snatch, at any cost, a few briefmoments of life before Death's inexorable decree. And Man said: `Thereis a hidden purpose, could we but fathom it, and thepurpose is good; for we must reverence something, and in thevisible world there is nothing worthy of reverence.' And Manstood aside from the struggle, resolving that God intendedharmony to come out of chaos by human efforts. And when hefollowed the instincts which God had transmitted to him from hisancestry of beasts of prey, he called it Sin, and asked God toforgive him. But he doubted whether he could be justly forgiven,until he invented a divine Plan by which God's wrath was to havebeen appeased. And seeing the present was bad, he made it yetworse, that thereby the future might be better. And he gave Godthanks for the strength that enabled him to forgo even the joysthat were possible. And God smiled; and when he saw that Man hadbecome perfect in renunciation and worship, he sent another sunthrough the sky, which crashed into Man's sun; and all returnedagain to nebula.
The answer to this question is very momentous, and affectsprofoundly our whole morality. The worship of Force, to whichCarlyle and Nietzsche and the creed of Militarism have accustomedus, is the result of failure to maintain our own ideals against ahostile universe: it is itself a prostrate submission to evil, asacrifice of our best to Moloch. If strength indeed is to berespected, let us respect rather the strength of those who refusethat false "recognition of facts" which fails to recognise thatfacts are often bad. Let us admit that, in the world we know,there are many things that would be better otherwise, and thatthe ideals to which we do and must adhere are not realised in therealm of matter. Let us preserve our respect for truth, forbeauty, for the ideal of perfection which life does not permit usto attain, though none of these things meet with the approval ofthe unconscious universe. If Power is bad, as it seems to be,let us reject it from our hearts. In this lies Man's truefreedom: in determination to worship only the God created by ourown love of the good, to respect only the heaven which inspiresthe insight of our best moments. In action, in desire, we mustsubmit perpetually to the tyranny of outside forces; but inthought, in aspiration, we are free, free from our fellow-men,free from the petty planet on which our bodies impotently crawl,free even, while we live, from the tyranny of death. Let uslearn, then, that energy of faith which enables us to liveconstantly in the vision of the good; and let us descend, inaction, into the world of fact, with that vision always beforeus.
When, without the bitterness of impotent rebellion, we havelearnt both to resign ourselves to the outward rules of Fate andto recognise that the non-human world is unworthy of our worship,it becomes possible at last so to transform and refashion theunconscious universe, so to transmute it in the crucible ofimagination, that a new image of shining gold replaces the oldidol of clay. In all the multiform facts of the world--in thevisual shapes of trees and mountains and clouds, in the events ofthe life of man, even in the very omnipotence of Death--theinsight of creative idealism can find the reflection of a beautywhich its own thoughts first made. In this way mind asserts itssubtle mastery over the thoughtless forces of Nature. The moreevil the material with which it deals, the more thwarting tountrained desire, the greater is its achievement in inducing thereluctant rock to yield up its hidden treasures, the prouder itsvictory in compelling the opposing forces to swell the pageant ofits triumph. Of all the arts, Tragedy is the proudest, the mosttriumphant; for it builds its shining citadel in the very centreof the enemy's country, on the very summit of his highestmountain; from its impregnable watchtowers, his camps andarsenals, his columns and forts, are all revealed; within itswalls the free life continues, while the legions of Death andPain and Despair, and all the servile captains of tyrant Fate,afford the burghers of that dauntless city new spectacles ofbeauty. Happy those sacred ramparts, thrice happy the dwellerson that all-seeing eminence. Honour to those brave warriors who,through countless ages of warfare, have preserved for us thepriceless heritage of liberty, and have kept undefiled bysacrilegious invaders the home of the unsubdued. 2b1af7f3a8