I recall a family that survived a brick house's collapse in '87 because they ran out during a 6.1 quake.
That's great for them, assuming they exist. It doesn't change the facts. Sure, if you happen to be right by the door that's great, but most of the time you're not. In fact, alot of the time you spend in your house (assuming you work elsewhere) is spent in bed. Good luck getting out of your bed, out of your house and into the relative safety of the street - even assuming that the street is wide enough to avoid falling masonry from the buildings on both sides.
I happen to live in a very seismically active area, and have experienced many earthquakes. Outside of your house, things fall down (chimneys, roof tiles, walls), holes filled with wet sand open up in the ground. If your house is built well, inside it is the safest place. If your house is not built well, you are fucked.
But the point here is that I cannot see how blaming the scientists for the deaths is remotely fair, since the implication is that had the advice been different lives would have been saved, and further that the effect of different advice could reasonably have been foreseen. I don't think either of those statements are true. I think people died simply because they were living in unsafe buildings in a seismic zone.
Are you suggesting that the resident who was 'predicting' the earthquakes was right? Not in the sense of being accidentally correct (wasn't he out by 100km or something anyway), but in the sense of actually having a reliable earthquake prediction method?
In any case, it seems to me that actually having a 'earthquake risk assessment panel' is an error, since earthquake risk cannot be assessed in any meaningful way - beyond that fact that you live near a fault line and in an unreinforced masonry building and therefore when there's a big quake there's a good chance that you will die. Why was this panel set up in the first place? What was its mandate? Who is responsible for the sub-standard housing being still lived in?
Let me ask you this - what should the risk assessment panel's advice been, and how would things have worked out differently?