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Italian scientists face jail time over failure to predict deadly L'Aquila earthquake


An aerial view of a collapsed building in the town of L'Aquila, central Italy, on Monday morning after a powerful earthquake struck.

A group of Italian scientists who failed to predict the deadly 2009 L'Aquila earthquake could be sent to jail for four years each, reports the Telegraph.

The 6.3 magnitude earthquake, which struck nearby the city of L'Aquila in central Italy, killed 309 people and caused billions in property damage.

Prosecutors are calling for jail terms for the seven scientists on trial, who are said to have played down indications that an earthquake was imminent, calling out the scientists for offering "an incomplete, inept, unsuitable and criminally mistaken analysis" of early earthquake symptoms.

Prior to the deadly earthquake, a number of tremors rolled through the area in an earthquake "swarm," a possible—but not infallible—indicator that a major seismic event might be on its way, says the Telegraph.

Read more from GlobalPost: Death, destruction, and hope - L'Aquila photo gallery

The controversy is centered around an emergency meeting in L'Aquila six days before the earthquake hit, when prosecutors claim that the scientists failed to communicate the gravity of the situation, convincing locals to stay put instead of escaping.

The hapless scientists first went on trial almost exactly a year ago, according to—despite the fact that there's a wide consensus that earthquake prediction is a very imprecise art.

Read more from GlobalPost: Earthquake rocks northern Italy, killing 6

In May, a 6.0 earthquake hit Italy near the city of Bologna, killing six in a tremor felt from Milan to Venice, following a 5.3 magnitude quake in January.

Scientists elsewhere in the world will almost certainly be watching the proceedings of this trial extremely closely, as there's little precedent for such punishment for scientists.