Ga. Tech professor blasts earthquake verdict

6:41 AM, Oct 25, 2012   |    comments
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ATLANTA -- An Italian court this week sentenced six scientists to six years in jail on manslaughter charges for their failure to predict an earthquake in 2009 that left 300 people dead.

This surprise decision has sent aftershocks to scientists all around the globe including Atlanta.

One of the world's foremost experts on earthquakes serves as  chair and professor of Civil and Environmental Engineering at Georgia Tech.

Dr. Reginald DesRoches is friends with one of the scientists sentenced. 

"I don't think he ever thought it could end up like this," he said. "I think he's shocked. His family is very upset."

The verdict is unprecedented and has been page one all across Italy.

Newspapers have run banner headlines about the country's most prominent seismologists and geologists. 

"I always like to say in my class earthquakes don't kill people, buildings kill people," DesRoches said. "So the real tragedy here (is) they were living in unsafe buildings. That's what needs to be addressed, not the fact that somebody didn't predict an earthquake."

DesRoches says predicting earthquakes is a very imperfect science. It is impossible to predict when, where and how big. 

"For this to happen like this, for people to be prosecuted for not predicting an earthquake where earthquakes take place all the time is unfortunate and sad," he said.

And perhaps most telling, he now believes American scientists will be very careful about predicting earthquakes here or even saying anything about their likelihood.

"I think people will be very hesitant about saying anything as it relates to risk mitigation."

Dr. DesRoches says the Italian government is to blame for the deaths. The structures were not up to where they needed to be.

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