ACCUMOLI: Italian authorities opened an investigation yesterday (Thursday) into the collapse of buildings in the country's earthquake-devastated region, as questions were asked about why more lessons had not been learned from the previous deadly tremor seven years ago.
The death toll from the magnitude 6.2 quake, which struck a mountainous area of central Italy early on Wednesday, reached 250 and was expected to rise further as firemen, soldiers and alpine rescuers dug through the rubble of towns and villages. More than 260 people were injured, some critically.
The inquiry will focus on the modern buildings that collapsed, rather than the hundreds of medieval stone structures that crumbled.
Investigators will look in particular at a badly damaged school in the town of Amatrice, where 184 people died. The Romolo Capranica school was built in 2012 - three years after an earthquake in the nearby city of L'Aquila killed 300 people - and was supposed to be quake-proof.
"The school did not collapse, but was damaged," said Nicola Zingaretti, the governor of Lazio, one of the three regions affected. Had the earthquake happened during the day and in term time, dozens of children could have been killed or injured. Giuseppe Saieva, the chief public prosecutor for most of the area affected, said he would be opening an investigation into whether anyone should be held responsible.
His investigation will look at the school in Amatrice, as well as a recently restored bell tower which collapsed in the village of Accumoli.
After the L'Aquila disaster, Italy's Civil Protection agency made almost euros 1?billion (pounds 0.85?billion) available for upgrading buildings in areas vulnerable to earthquakes. But few applications for the grants were received, a failing which critics blamed on red tape and overly complicated forms.
"Here in the middle of a seismic zone, nothing has ever been done," said Dario Nanni, from the Italian Council of Architects. "It does not cost that much more when renovating a building to make it comply with earthquake standards. But less than 20 per cent of buildings do."
He said the earthquake's impact had been made worse by the widespread use of cement beams rather than timber beams in the construction of houses: "These indestructible beams hit walls like a hammer and that is what made so many (houses) collapse."
Claudio Del Medico Fasano, president of the Ecological School Association, said Italian authorities need to recognise that reinforced concrete is not the best material to use in seismic areas. "Italy is a seismic country and we're living in a constant state of emergency," he said. "Instead we should focus our efforts on prevention, building with evolved anti-seismic techniques and leaving behind the old cement-based schemes."
The newspaper Corriere della Sera wrote: "In a country where in the past 40 years there have been at least eight devastating earthquakes... the only lesson we have learned is to save lives after the fact. We are far behind in the other lessons."
The authorities said it was impossible to say how many people are missing during the busy summer period when the mountainous area draws visitors.