A devastating combination of nature and neglect flattened the city of LAquila, Italy. Seismic standards were ignored in this historically, earthquake prone region, leading to a tragic death toll when struck by a 6.3 magnitude earthquake at 3:32 in the morning on April 6, 2009. The estimated thirty second tremor and multiple aftershocks took the lives of 295 people, injuring upwards of 1,500 residents within the Abruzzo region, and leaving nearly 55,000 homeless.
NATURE: Historically, the Abruzzo region in central Italy is known to be seismically active, with earthquakes striking in the years; 1315, 1349, 1452, 1501, 1646, 1703, and 2009. The cause for such seismic activity results from many factors. For instance, L’Aquila is situated in a valley of the Apennines Mountains. Along the Apennines runs a complex fault line in the north-south direction, while an east-west fault line runs centrally through the region, often causing minor tremors.
Due to extensional faulting, there has been a vertical collapse in the mountain fault, referred to as a “dip-slip” fault, as one block of rock has moved below the other. In addition, the colliding of the Eurasian and African Plates continues to cause stress that could eventually lead to the displacement of Italy’s infamous “boot.”
NEGLECT: Nature is only partially to blame for the loss of life, with the most devastating effects resulting from a lack of funding being provided for structural reinforcements. Ignoring anti-seismic structural codes for buildings and infrastructure within the renown seismically active region caused unnecessary collapses and significant loss of life. In the case of L’Aquila, modern buildings, such as the hospital and dormitories of the University of L’Aquila should have withstood the shake, however they were not retrofitted, and therefore suffered collapse.
After the quake, only two operating rooms were available for use in the hospital, with the rest in ruins. Public money should have been allotted to fund the construction of safe buildings, especially since the region is frequently struck by earthquakes, and considering the fact that Italy is the most seismically active country in Europe.
While earthquakes are unpredictable and full of potential damage, precautions in active earthquake zones are fundamental. L’Aquila, being a medieval city was surrounded by ancient structures of the past that added to the culture, yet in the end, ravaged from its future. The construction, even of newer buildings, was not built to withstand the impact of a shake and as an unfortunate result, people perished under the debris an unstable materials they once had cherished – a travesty beyond words.