I was woken by a text message from my mother: ‘Are you ok news of earthquake.’ I live more than 100km from l’Aquila, and didn’t feel anything at 3.30 this morning – at least, not enough to wake me up. One of the neighbours says she was disturbed by a noise she thought was her husband walking into a door.
The death toll in Abruzzo has now passed 90, and there are more than 50,000 evacuees. Berlusconi cancelled a trip to Moscow to fly over the destruction in a helicopter. The pope said he’s praying for the dead babies. The head of the National Institute of Geophysics and Vulcanology, Enzo Boschi, has pointed the finger at poor building standards. ‘We get upset after every earthquake,’ La Repubblica has reported him as saying, ‘but it’s not part of our culture to build in an adequate manner in seismic zones.’ The INGV has made detailed seismic hazard maps of Italy, as well as indicating the kinds of intervention that could be undertaken to make buildings safer. But according to Boschi no one pays any attention.
As I learned from Susan Elizabeth Hough’s Earthshaking Science: What We Know (and Don’t Know) about Earthquakes, there’s an important difference between hazard and risk: hazard is the probability that an earthquake will affect a given area; risk ‘reflects the exposure of structures, lifelines and populations to existing hazard’. Boschi’s point is that, considering the hazard, the risk in Italy is too high.
When our roof was fixed last year, the engineer had to submit his plans to the provincial seismic planning department. Supposedly it’s now earthquake resistant. Which would be more reassuring if I could be sure the walls were too.