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Volume 87 Issue 15 | p. 6 | News of The Week
Issue Date: April 8, 2009

Earthquake In Italy

Science buildings at the University of L'Aquila sustained damage
Department: Education
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Inside the biology and physics building at the University of L'Aquila.
Credit: Gianluca Ferrini
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Inside the biology and physics building at the University of L'Aquila.
Credit: Gianluca Ferrini

THE 6.3-MAGNITUDE earthquake that hit L'Aquila, Italy, before dawn on April 6 has caused more than 250 deaths, thousands of injuries, and the destruction of much of the city and its university, but the two main science buildings did not collapse, says rescue worker Gianluca Ferrini, who is also a geologist at the University of L'Aquila.

While most of city’s 70,000-plus residents have fled to emergency camps or the homes of family and friends, Ferrini has been staying in a tent in the parking lot near the university science buildings while he works on the rescue effort.

The earthquake and its aftershocks have toppled many buildings in town, including a student dormitory, where rescue workers spent days digging through rubble in search of survivors. “There are at least 10 students of the university dead,” Ferrini says.

The basic scaffolding of the university building that houses chemistry and medicine remained intact, “but everything in the labs has been shaken, everything is on the floor–glassware, books, microscopes,” Ferrini adds. A second building, which houses biology, physics, and environmental science, is also still standing, but “the walls on the third floor have all fallen down.”

“The shaking was so hard that all the fridges in the labs opened, and we have lost a lot of valuable biological and chemical materials,” Ferrini says. “All the experimental animals are also dead.”

Because the earthquake struck in the middle of the night, most people were at home. “All the professors and students who work in the chemistry labs and their families are alive and safe,” says Francesco De Angelis, an organic chemist at the university. “But very, very sadly, one secretary in my department has lost her two children, ages 16 and 18.”

“I was very lucky,” Ferrini says. “When the earthquake hit, I was staying with my fiancée in a different town, 80 km away from L’Aquila. Even there the whole bed was shaking and I woke up. I drove immediately to L’Aquila to get involved in the rescue. Later, I visited my home and saw that the ceiling in my bedroom had collapsed.”

 
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