Secret Service set to save Obama if quake hits Italy

McClatchy NewspapersJuly 8, 2009 

L'AQUILA, Italy — The Secret Service is confident it can get President Barack Obama out of harm's way if there is any earthquake aftershock large enough to threaten safety at a summit meeting in Italy, a top aide said Wednesday.

“They wouldn't let us do anything that put anybody in danger,” White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs said as Air Force One flew to Italy from Russia.

“And obviously there's plenty of planning, plenty of planning on what to do if by chance something were to happen.”

After a stop in Rome, Obama was heading about 50 miles East to L'Aquila, site of an April 6 earthquake that killed 298 and displaced some 65,000 from their homes. The Italian government moved the summit to the site from the originally scheduled location at La Maddalena, Sardinia to draw world attention to the relief efforts there.

Italian civil defense officials assured U.S. officials during a site visit in May that the buildings were thoroughly checked to ensure safety.

“This building was checked,” said Guido Bertolaso, director of the Italian Department of Civil Defense. “We can guarantee the building.”

He also stressed that the summit would not disrupt emergency activities.

But the continuing aftershocks unnerved some summit participants – the last one on Friday measured at 4.1 on the Richter scale with the epicenter just half a mile from the summit site.

Summit organizers had assured world leaders that they and everyone with them would be safe. And Italian officials acknowledged that they have an evacuation plan to get world leaders away from L’Aquila quickly if necessary.

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