Page last updated at 22:19 GMT, Tuesday, 28 July 2009 23:19 UK

Sicilian hospital 'a quake risk'

By David Willey
BBC News, Rome

Map showing Sicily and Agrigento

Italian officials have ordered the evacuation of a newly built hospital on the island of Sicily after tests showed it risked collapse in an earthquake.

The 400-bed complex is in the town of Agrigento, in western Sicily.

More than 20 local officials and managers of the construction company are under investigation for fraud.

The justice authorities allege that they supplied sub-standard building materials - including concrete made with more sand than cement.

It is an emblematic story of Mafia crime - the endangering of the lives of hundreds of patients because the Sicilian hospital structure is unsafe in a known earthquake zone.


The public hospital in Agrigento took 20 years to build at a cost to the Italian taxpayer of more than $50m (35.3m euros).

When it finally opened, five years ago, rats had eaten through electric cables and there was a black-out including in operating theatres, involving costly repairs.

The stability of the structure is suspect because concrete supplied by local contractors was mixed with too much sand and not enough cement in order to increase builders' profits.

Italian state television showed pictures of core samples taken from the hospital's walls crumbling as soon as they were removed.

The hospital authorities have now been given a month to evacuate the 400-bed complex and remove beds and medical equipment.

Environmental protection agencies say there are five hundred more hospitals and hundreds more schools and public works projects in Italy which have been built without proper attention to seismic risk.

The walls of a newly built hospital in L'Aquila in central Italy - hit by a catastrophic earthquake earlier this year - cracked and the building had to be abandoned.

Earthquake proofing is patchy in one of Europe's most earthquake-prone countries.

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