Negligence probe over Italy quake death toll

Italian authorities are vowing to investigate whether negligence or fraud in adhering to building codes played a role in the high death toll in last week’s earthquake.

They also called for efforts to ensure organised crime does not infiltrate lucrative construction contracts to eventually rebuild much of the picturesque towns levelled in the disaster.

Meanwhile, rescue workers pressed on with the task of recovering bodies from the rubble, with hopes of finding any more survivors virtually vanishing.

Over the past three days, they found six more bodies in the rubble of Hotel Roma in Amatrice, the medieval hill town in mountainous central Italy that bore the brunt of destruction and loss of life in the powerful quake. 

They recovered three and were still working to retrieve others.

It was not clear if those six were included in the overall 290 death toll given by officials. 

The Civil Protection agency, which combines the figures it receives from different provinces affected by the quake, said the number is lower than the previous toll of 291 dead due to a correction in the numbers from the province of Rieti, where most of the victims died.

The quake that struck before dawn last Wednesday also injured nearly 400 people as it flattened three medieval towns near the rugged Apennines. 

Prosecutor Giuseppe Saieva, based in the nearby provincial capital of Rieti, said the high human death toll “cannot only be considered the work of fate.”

“The fault lines tragically did their work and this is called destiny, but if the buildings had been built like in Japan they would not have collapsed,” Mr Saieva said in comments carried by Italian media.

Investigations are focusing on a number of structures, including an elementary school in Amatrice that crumbled despite being renovated in 2012 to resist earthquakes at a cost of €700,000. 

With summer holidays in their final weeks, the school was not yet in use. Many were shocked it did not withstand the 6.2 magnitude quake.

After an entire first-grade class and a teacher were killed in a 2002 quake in the southern town of San Giuliano di Puglia, Italian officials had pledged that the safety of schools, hospitals, and other critical public buildings would be guaranteed.

Questions also surround a bell tower in Accumoli that collapsed, killing a family of four sleeping in a neighbouring house, including a baby of eight months and a seven-year-old boy. 

That bell tower had been recently restored with special funds allocated after Italy’s last major earthquake, which struck nearby L’Aquila in 2009.

Italy’s national anti-Mafia prosecutor, Franco Roberti, vowed to work to prevent organised crime from infiltrating public works projects which will be eventually begun to rebuild the earthquake zone. 

“This risk of infiltration is always high,” he said. “Post-earthquake reconstruction is historically a tempting morsel for criminal groups and colluding business interests.”


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