Main street in Amatrice, before and after the 24 August earthquake
WHY THE DEATH TOLL IS SO HIGH
The tragedy is in the news every day as the death toll climbs relentlessly, the latest figure, as I write on the day of the State Funeral held for the victims, is 291.
No one talks about why this death toll is so high. But an uncomfortable truth is beginning to emerge in Italy, and an emotionally-charged debate around it has already started, with accusations of mistakes and wrong-doing flung around. This is a complex question, and while it’s still early days to assess the extent and nature of the devastation, it’s worth taking a closer look at it.
Part of the reason the death toll was so high is, alas, quite mundane: Because it happened at 3:30 am in the dead of night, everyone was in bed. And why so many of the victims were children is also easily explained. It happened in an area close to Rome, a little more than an hour drive, and many Romans have secondary homes in all those charming hilltop villages, the mountain air is good, the views magnificent; grandparents spend the summer here, looking after their grand-children. As a result, the earthquake primarily hit the elderly and children who never had a chance to escape a collapsing house in the middle of the night.
Then there is another, more structural reason that human ingenuity can do little against: the devastation in Italy was due to the fact that the epicenter of the earthquake was fairly close to the surface, about 10 km deep, as compared to the one in . The two are not linked events, a mere coincidence, they are too far apart and not sitting on the same faults. But they serve to show the difference in impact: The 6.8 magnitude quake in Myanmar (as against 6.2 in Italy), while much stronger, also started much deeper, over 100 km down. Result: there was considerable damage to buildings, as may be expected from such a violent earthquake, but only 3 people were killed…
But there is yet one more reason and here humans are definitely at fault. It hasn’t yet fully come out in the international press but it’s fast emerging in Italian news (, and ):...