Whole towns and cities just northeast of Rome lie in ruins today, victims of a powerful earthquake. Scores are dead. They needn't have died, because they had been warned.
THE DEPRESSING DETAILS come from Reuters:
An Italian scientist predicted a major earthquake around L'Aquila weeks before disaster struck the city on Monday, killing dozens of people, but was reported to authorities for spreading panic among the population.
The first tremors in the region were felt in mid-January and continued at regular intervals, creating mounting alarm in the medieval city, about 100 km (60 miles) east of Rome.
Vans with loudspeakers had driven around the town a month ago telling locals to evacuate their houses after seismologist Gioacchino Giuliani predicted a large quake was on the way, prompting the mayor's anger.
Giuliani, who based his forecast on concentrations of radon gas around seismically active areas, was reported to police for "spreading alarm" and was forced to remove his findings from the Internet.
Italy's Civil Protection agency held a meeting of the Major Risks Committee, grouping scientists charged with assessing such risks, in L'Aquila on March 31 to reassure the townspeople.
"The tremors being felt by the population are part of a typical sequence ... (which is) absolutely normal in a seismic area like the one around L'Aquila," the civil protection agency said in a statement on the eve of that meeting.
"It is useful to underline that it is not in any way possible to predict an earthquake," it said, adding that the agency saw no reason for alarm but was nonetheless effecting "continuous monitoring and attention."
EVEN TODAY, an Italian science-o-crat still was blowing off the tragically obvious: "As far as I know nobody predicted this earthquake with precision. It is not possible to predict earthquakes."
Except that someone just did. The man who, as it turns out, was Cassandra.
That dynamic worked out well for Troy, too.
But don't go picking on the Italians. They're just as human as the rest of us -- a motley lot who never want to hear the bleedin' obvious when the obvious involves bad tidings.
After all, who'd a thunk that, someday, a major hurricane would hit New Orleans, swamp the whole place and kill more than a thousand?
HISTORY TELLS US no one much cared to hear what the New Orleans Times-Picayune (and all its scientific sources) predicted, either. Faced with the sure knowledge more than 100,000 poor people would be completely unable to flee an oncoming hurricane, the city's best response was to settle on telling them they were on their own.
But something happened before the official notification to that effect. Her name was Katrina.
The weird thing is that Katrina missed New Orleans, landing only a swiping blow. And look what still happened.
Of course, lots of people still try to stick their heads in the sand about climate change and the rising oceans. And all they get is a snootful of salt water. Every time.
UPDATE: Hey! Big spender! Nothin' like rich Uncle Sam throwin' the big money around to help whole cities that have been wiped out.
From Agence France-Presse:
The United States said Monday it would donate 50,000 dollars in emergency aid to Italy after a powerful earthquake killed at least 100 people.Remind me not to bother trick or treating at the Obamas' house.
"We send our heartfelt condolences to the families of those killed in the earthquake. Our embassy in Rome will provide 50,000 (dollars) in emergency relief funding," State Department spokesman Robert Wood told reporters.