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Why Italy's Medieval Infrastructure May Be To Blame For Earthquake Destruction

Hope is dwindling for finding survivors in central Italy, where more than 267 people were killed in Wednesday’s 6.2-magnitude earthquake.

Questions are now being raised over how the massive destruction could have been prevented. But in a country filled with ancient and medieval architecture, that task can be difficult and expensive.

Here & Now‘s Meghna Chakrabarti speaks with earthquake engineer Carmine Galasso about Italy’s building and construction laws and how they may play a role in the country’s latest earthquake disaster.

Interview Highlights: Carmine Galasso

On the problem with Italy’s old buildings

“As you probably know, the issue is not really much with new buildings. Italy has a quite advanced and state of the art building code… The real problem is really with existing old buildings that have been there for several hundred years without any consideration of seismic design code. Based on past experience of L’Aquila 2009 event, not far away from the current one, probably 30 miles, it actually was a great wake up call for Italy for understanding the key issue is really preparedness. It’s not just managing the emergency.”

On reports saying that many newer structures were completely gone after the earthquake

“Well, depends. For example, the reason building code, everything which is has been built before 2009, is considered not at current standard. So, even what for cannot be as a new building is actually, I mean building codes change each time. Each time there is an event like this one, we learn more, we can get more data. Again, even the current one in 2009, the building code of 2009, now will not be considered state of the art anymore in a few years.”

On rebuilding after the earthquake

“It requires a lot of investment and again, also, maybe just homeowners have to contribute to the retrofitting of their own houses. But the problem is is, until something like the current event happens, people don’t really feel how important it is to invest. So you know, people maybe prefer to invest kind of the same amount of money, or a bit less, in doing a new kitchen for their house, but not really for investing in seismic retrofitting of their house.

There are good regulations, so it’s possible to claim some part of the tax. So I was reading this morning, apparently you can get back about 60 percent of the cost of the retrofitting, but this takes 10 years, so it’s not an immediate payback.”



Carmine Galasso, lecturer in earthquake engineering at University College London. He tweets @EPICentreUCL.

Copyright 2020 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.