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Disaster Experts Leave Posts Fearing Prosecution After Peers Receive Prison Sentence for Poor Predictions

"...harmful to international efforts to understand natural disasters and mitigate associated risk."

Relatives of the victims embrace outside L'Aquila court after hearing the guilty verdict. (Photo: AP/Raniero Pizzi)

ROME (TheBlaze/AP) -- After seven Italian seismologists and experts were found guilty of manslaughter and received a prison sentence for failing to adequately warn residents of a deadly 2009 earthquake, others fearing similar prosecution are leaving their posts.

Four top Italian disaster experts quit their jobs Tuesday, saying with such a risk, they can't effectively perform their duties.

A court in the quake-devastated town of L'Aquila convicted seven former members of Italy's so-called "Great Risks Commission" and sentenced each of them to six years in prison, prompting predictions that experts would be discouraged from working in Italy for fear of similar risks of prosecution.

Judge Marco Billi, right, reads the verdict at L'Aquila court, Italy, Monday, Oct. 22, 2012. (Photo: AP/Raniero Pizzi)

Commission President Luciano Maiani and two other members resigned, along with a top official for earthquake and volcano risk in the national Department of Civil Protection. Maiani said Monday's court ruling made it impossible to work in a "calm and efficient" way.

Prosecutors alleged the defendants - who included some of Italy's most internationally respected quake experts - didn't properly inform town residents of the risk of a big quake following weeks of small tremors. But scientists have ridiculed the case, saying earthquakes cannot be accurately predicted. The convictions are expected to be appealed.

With the verdict, "we understood why the Great Risks Commission has that name," a front-page commentary began in Corriere della Sera, a Milan daily. "The great risks are those to its members, as one deduces from the verdict."

Relatives of the victims embrace outside L'Aquila court after hearing the guilty verdict. (Photo: AP/Raniero Pizzi)

Senate President Renato Schifani has called the convictions and prison terms "strange, embarrassing."

Many scientists and commentators have noted that the court case failed to address a major cause of fatalities in disasters like quakes and mudslides: erecting homes, schools, hospitals and other public buildings on quake-prone terrain without the proper construction techniques or materials to make the structures more resilient.

Watch University of Southern California professor and seismologist Tim Jordan explain why this case puts those in charge of predicting disasters in a complicated position:

After the April 2009 quake, which left 308 people dead, many experts said that the 6.3-magnitude temblor wouldn't have caused such extensive damage if buildings been constructed or retrofitted to meet modern quake zone construction standards.

In Washington, the American Geophysical Union described the verdict and prison sentences as "troubling," and expressed concern that they could "ultimately be harmful to international efforts to understand natural disasters and mitigate associated risk."

This picture shows damaged buildings following the 2009 earthquake. (Photo: FILIPPO MONTEFORTE/AFP/Getty Images)

"While the facts of the L'Aquila case are complex, the unfettered exchange of data and information, as well as the freedom and encouragement to participate in open discussions and to communicate results, are essential to the success of any type of scientific research," the union, a professional and scientific organization with members from over 146 countries, said in a statement Tuesday.

One last thing…
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