BUFFALO, N.Y. -- On April 6, 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 is available to discuss
with the media 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
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
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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