An earthquake Monday in the Italian region of Abruzzo, leaving a death toll of at least 100 people by late afternoon local time and rendering about 100,000 people homeless, had victims and concerned observers communicating through emergency use of mobile devices and reaching out for help and information via Facebook and YouTube.
One seismologist, Giampaolo Giuliani, had even posted a YouTube video warning just last week, predicting that an earthquake of at least 4.0 magnitude was imminent. Response to the video is causing controversy because authorities told Giuliani to take down his posting and chastised him for spreading panic. Even Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi weighed in, saying that "earthquakes can't be predicted."
However, Giuliani said that earthquakes can indeed be predicted, specifying that a build up of radon along fault lines, and smaller shocks felt recently, indicated an imminent earthquake.
The earthquake, with a magnitude of 6.3, hit L'Aquila, the region's capital, at 3:32 a.m. local time Monday, also injured about 1,500 people, according to reports as of late afternoon. The quake was felt strongly as far away as Rome, about 100 kilometers (70 miles) from the epicenter.
In the panic after the quake hit, authorities asked local inhabitants to avoid using cell phones when possible.
"Everyone is strongly urged not to use cars to get around and to use cellular phones only in case of extreme necessity to avoid overburdening telephone lines," said Gianni Chiodi, president of the region of Abruzzo, in a statement.
One student, trapped under the wreckage of some university housing in Aquila, used his cell phone to give directions to rescue workers, helping them locate and dig him out.
A Facebook network called Aiutiamo l'Abruzzo (Let's help Abruzzo) has been formed to share emergency phone numbers and information about where to give blood and get medical help. About 90 Facebook groups dedicated to discussing measures that could have been taken to prepare for the earthquake also have been formed.
The region's technical infrastructure withstood the quake reasonably well, according to early multiple reports. No major negative effects on Web sites or telecommunications was seen, aside from some brief downtime for mobile communications. As of late afternoon, there was no evidence of viruses or phishing tied to the quake.