An Italian researcher claimed today that he forecast the powerful earthquake which hit central Italy yesterday but was muzzled by authorities.
In interviews with Italian media, lab technician Giampaolo Giuliani said he had forecast the deadly tremor thanks to a system he designed which measures the amount of radon gas released by the earth.
Scientists and officials dismissed the theory, saying there was no way of predicting earthquakes.
Speaking on RAI state TV, Mr Giuliani said he was “terrified” over the past few days as he saw unspecified data climbing on his computer, indicating that an earthquake was coming.
He said he had sent warnings to the authorities but was placed under investigation by prosecutors for causing alarm.
News reports said Mr Giuliani was forced to withdraw public warnings he had made on the internet and was now seeking an apology.
However in the lengthy interview with RAI, he maintained he had only directed his warnings at the authorities and never made the information public.
Mr Giuliani predicted a quake in the Sulmona area, a city some 30 miles (50km) south of the mountain city of L’Aquila, where the disaster struck.
The technician works for an underground physics lab in the nearby Gran Sasso massif, in the Apennine mountains, RAI said.
While the release of radon gas is studied as a phenomenon which sometimes precedes earthquakes, there is no way at the moment to correlate it to temblors and use it to predict them, said Enzo Boschi, head of the National Institute of Geophysics in Rome.
“Earthquakes are not predictable, and the information was completely wrong - he forecast it for Sulmona,” Mr Boschi told reporters.
He added that if the authorities had taken Mr Giuliani seriously the quake could have killed even more people.
“Imagine if we had accepted such data and evacuated Sulmona, most of the evacuees would have been in L’Aquila today,” Mr Boschi said.
The 5.8-magnitude quake hit L’Aquila as residents slept, killing at least 179 people and leaving thousands homeless.