Centre for Effective Learning Environments (CELE)

L’Aquila, Italy, earthquake hit educational buildings


By Jorge Miguel Proença and Mónica Amaral Ferreira, ICIST/IST and FCT, Portugal


This recent earthquake damaged schools and universities and, although it struck at night, resulted in student deaths.

On 6 April 2009, an earthquake with local magnitude 5.8 struck the mountainous Abruzzo region of central Italy causing 306 deaths – including 22 children –, injuring 1 500 people and severely damaging part of the L’Aquila historical centre.

The death toll was lower than previously in similar circumstances, presumably as a consequence of the numerous foreshocks felt in the two months prior to the main shock. However, the general impact of the earthquake was massive at regional level. According to the Italian Civil Protection Department reports, 62 200 inhabitants were left homeless. Children were relocated according to vacancies available in schools outside the affected area, while their families were sometimes housed elsewhere.

About 50% of the school buildings performed well, and no casualties among pupils were recorded at the time of the earthquake (3:32 a.m.). However, a significant number of schools collapsed totally or partially; some of those buildings were irreversibly damaged and others require extensive rehabilitation work. Certain school buildings that were not heavily damaged themselves were rendered unusable due to damage to adjoining buildings.

Damage to the façade of Scuola Elementare E. De Amicis in L’Aquila





Interior and exterior damage to Scuola Elementare Mariele Ventre in Pettino


Most of the buildings of L’Aquila University (composed of 9 Faculties with 27 000 students) were damaged beyond use, and one student residence partially collapsed resulting in 11 deaths. Consequently, a sharp decrease in student enrolment is expected. The tragedy that struck L’Aquila will likely have a massive economic impact on this region which greatly depends on university activities. A study by CRESA (2009) concluded that university students normally contribute about EUR 235 million per year to the community through expenditures related to lodging, meals, books/school supplies and entertainment.

The findings presented here were collected one month after the main shock by a team of researchers from Portugal. Under the authorisation of the Italian Civil Protection Department, they visited the affected area to gather information about building damage, focusing particularly on educational buildings, and about the impact of earthquakes in general.

This tragic event is yet another example of the unacceptably high seismic vulnerability of educational buildings as well as the need to establish medium-term sustainable seismic risk assessment and strengthening programmes.


For more information, contact:
Jorge Miguel Proença
ICIST/IST (Instituto de Engenharia de Estruturas, Território e Construção, Instituto Superior Técnico, T U Lisbon)


Mónica Amaral Ferreira
ICIST/IST, scholarship from FCT (Fundação para a Ciência e Tecnologia)


CRESA (Centro di studi e ricerche económico sociali dalle Camere di Commercio d’Abruzzo) (2009), Economics Consequences of the 2009 L’Aquila Earthquakes: An Interim Report, June.
Italian Civil Protection Department (2009), “Rapporto attività di sopralluogo effettuate al: 25/07/2009” (Activity report from the inspection carried out on 25/07/09), www.protezionecivile.it/cms/attach/editor/rapporto_260709.pdf.
OECD (2004), Keeping Schools Safe in Earthquakes, OECD, Paris.


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