Italy earthquake exposes poor building standards

L’Aquila’s new public hospital was hailed as a state-of-the-art, earthquake-proof building when it opened in 2000. But it collapsed along with many centuries-old monuments in the earthquake that struck the city Monday.

The San Salvatore hospital, evacuated after its walls gave way, forcing doctors to treat quake victims and ordinary patients in a courtyard, has exposed inadequate infrastructure in the area.

As the death toll from Italy’s worst earthquake since 1980 topped 200, shocked Italians asked how modern buildings — not just historic churches and stone houses — could crumble into pieces in a region known for its high seismic risk.

“Once again we are faced with the lack of control on the quality of construction,” Franco Barberi, who heads a committee assessing earthquake risks at Italy’s Civil Protection agency, told reporters in L’Aquila.

“In California, an earthquake like this one would not have killed a single person,” he said.

Many raised the suspicion that the hospital, like other structures in Italy, was built with a less than scrupulous respect for anti-seismic building codes.

“I am really startled that a reinforced concrete hospital in a highly seismic zone can be so devastated to be declared off-limits. It’s absurd,” said architect Paolo Rocchi, a university professor on the conservation of historic buildings.

“If a structure is built following proper anti-seismic procedures, it can suffer damage, but it should still manage to withstand even a very destructive quake,” he told La Stampa newspaper Tuesday.


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