On April 6, 2009, a powerful earthquake struck central Italy, near the medieval town of L’Aquila, about 75 miles northeast of Rome. It caused the deaths of nearly 300 people and substantial damage to buildings in L’Aquila and surrounding towns. The Italian government estimates that 28,000 are homeless as a result of the quake.
Gian Paolo Cimellaro, a graduate of the University at Buffalo’s doctoral program in earthquake engineering, is currently a visiting professor in the UB Department of Civil, Structural and Environmental Engineering. He is on leave from his position as assistant professor in the Department of Structural and Geotechnical Engineering at Polytechnic University of Turin (Politecnico di Torino). Cimellaro arrived in Buffalo on April 8; he was in Rome when the Paganica earthquake struck on Monday morning. Later this month, he plans to visit L’Aquila to classify and report damage to buildings. Cimellaro offered the following descriptions about the earthquake and the damage it caused.
Q: What type of earthquake was it?
Cimellaro: The first shock was recorded at 3:32 a.m. on April 6. It was a magnitude 6.3. The shaking was very slow because the earthquake was shallow with the distance from the surface around 5.5 miles. But even with less energy, this type of earthquake is able to generate major damage. The earthquake was not of a high intensity and it is comparable with the 1997 earthquake in the Umbria region, but the number of deaths from this earthquake is greater because the buildings in the Abruzzo region do not respect seismic standards. The earthquake was related to normal faulting and the east-west extensional tectonics that dominate along the entire Apennine belt.
Q: There have been many reports of aftershocks. Can you describe them?
Cimellaro: So far, more than 490 shocks have been recorded. The second big aftershock was recorded at 7:47 a.m. on April 7 and it was 5.5 magnitude at a depth of 8.3 miles. A third shock of 5.3 magnitude was recorded on April 8 at 6:25 a.m.
Q: What type of construction was in the affected area?
Cimellaro: Construction was mostly masonry buildings that are very old and degraded. An entire four-story building collapsed totally. This was a main cause of deaths during this earthquake. Buildings were constructed without following seismic codes and standards. Many historically important churches and buildings collapsed. The Basilica di Santa Maria di Collemaggio in L’Aquila was seriously damaged and so were the remains of Celestino V that were kept inside. The dome of the Duomo of the Amine Sante also collapsed. In the neighboring town of Villa Sant’Angelo, the church of San Michele Arcangelo was seriously damaged. The house dorm of the University of L’Aquila collapsed and the students inside died as a result.
Q: Had anything been done to these buildings to prevent or reduce earthquake damage?
Cimellaro: Safe buildings need to be constructed, but nothing has been done, because of lack of funding. It would have been necessary to use public money to retrofit existing buildings, in particular, critical facilities like hospitals, schools, and so on. It seems that a hospital collapsed, which is a shame, because everybody knew that was a seismic region. The hospital should at least have been retrofitted. Now, the hospital has been left with only one operating room available. They were building external operating rooms and putting beds in the parking lot to take care of injured persons. All other hospitals in the central region of Italy are on alert and are ready to receive patients from the earthquake. The highway network has been interrupted and trucks reach the damaged sites by using local roads.
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