Monday, April 27, 2009

Terremoto: "One Building In Two Unsafe At L’Aquila"

From Corriere della Sera's Italian Life section:

One Building In Two Unsafe At L’Aquila
Checks reveal 30% of homes, schools and public buildings in province also unsafe. Public prosecutor calls inquiry “the mother of all investigations”

L’AQUILA – The situation is much worse than it appeared initially. After the first 1,000 checks carried out by the civil protection agency on buildings still standing, it transpires that one in two is unsafe.

This is enough to confirm that the historic centre of L’Aquila and the villages at the epicentre of the quake could be in a state of near-catastrophe. The investigation, launched by the public prosecutor’s office, concentrated on the three streets with the highest numbers of victims – Via XX Settembre, Via Luigi Sturzo and Via Generale Francesco Rossi – along with public edifices that either collapsed or suffered severe damage, despite having been built to comply with anti-earthquake criteria.

It is suspected that unsuitable building materials may have been used, or that reports of serious problems may have been ignored despite calls for evacuation or restructuring of the edifices concerned.

The civil protection agency carried out some checks in less severely affected areas to enable those who have left homes that are not at risk to leave the emergency camps. Magistrates are taking another approach and have given priority to collapsed buildings that claimed victims. Less badly damaged buildings will come under scrutiny later.

Early figures from both inquiries are worrying. Out of 162 “private residential buildings” inspected at L’Aquila, precisely half – 81 – are no longer fit for habitation. Things are little better in the province, where 643 check ups produced 248 negative results.

The first figures for public structures are equally discouraging, the 78 checks in L’Aquila producing 45 cases where inspectors were unable to declare the building safe. The same average emerged from inspections of schools. Out of 25 schools visited at L’Aquila, 14 were found to be unsafe while three out of six inspected in the province also failed to meet requirements. This is just the beginning.

According to estimates from the civil protection agency, at least 22,000 buildings are require attention, a total that is destined to rise. It will take months to quantify the damage and magistrates will also be busy with criminal investigations for some time.

Public prosecutor Alfredo Rossini called it “the mother of all investigations.” Yesterday, Mr Rossini’s deputy, Fabio Picuti, chaired a meeting with the team of experts and investigators appointed to inspect the building stock.

Both magistrates know that it could take weeks to identify any criminal liability since engineers will have to report and chemical tests will have to be carried out before charges can be brought. In the circumstances, these could range from culpable disaster to manslaughter. Most important, investigators must recover files relating to the buildings that collapsed or were seriously damaged, documents that are held in local authority offices themselves declared unsafe. Recovery has been delegated to officers from the flying squad, coordinated by Salvatore Gava.

Early checks carried out at the student residence and San Salvatore hospital revealed that reinforced concrete columns may not have been code-compliant as insufficient iron appears to have been used. The concrete itself will now be analysed. Volunteers from the mountain rescue cave unit – which for the first time used micro-explosives to clear rubble – told how they noticed “how friable the structures were. In fact, the frame came away in our hands."

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