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Researcher claims he forecast Italy quake

AN ITALIAN researcher claims he forecast the powerful earthquake that hit central Italy on Monday and says that he was muzzled by authorities.

In interviews with Italian media, lab technician Giampaolo Giuliani said he had forecast the quake thanks to a system he designed that measures the amount of radon gas released by the earth.

Scientists and officials dismissed the theory, saying there is no way at the moment to predict earthquakes.

Speaking on RAI state TV, Giuliani said he was "terrified" over the past few days as he saw unspecified data climbing on his computer and indicating a quake was coming. Giuliani said he had sent warnings to authorities but was placed under investigation by prosecutors for causing alarm.

News reports said Giuliani had been forced to withdraw public warnings he had made on the Internet and was now seeking an apology. However in the lengthy interview with RAI Monday night, Giuliani maintained he had only directed his warnings at authorities and had never made the information public.

Giuliani had predicted a quake in the Sulmona area, a city some 30 miles (50 kilometers) south of the mountain city of L'Aquila, where the disaster struck.

The technician works for an underground physics lab in the nearby Gran Sasso massif, in the Apennine mountains, RAI said. Calls to the lab were not answered Monday evening.

While the release of radon gas is studied as a phenomenon that sometimes precedes quakes, there is no way at the moment to correlate it to temblors and use it to predict them, said Enzo Boschi, head of the National Institute of Geophysics in Rome.

"Earthquakes are not predictable, and the information was completely wrong, he forecast it for Sulmona," Boschi told reporters.

Boschi added that if authorities had taken Giuliani seriously the quake could have killed even more people.

"Imagine if we had accepted such data and evacuated Sulmona, most of the evacuees would have been in L'Aquila today," Boschi said.

The 5.8-magnitude quake hit L'Aquila as residents slept, killing at least 179 people and leaving thousands homeless.


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