Rome Earthquake Prophecy Sparks Panic

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Still intact: Rome’s Colosseum. Photo courtesy Rossella Lorenzi

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Rome will be shaved off the face of the Earth tomorrow, as a devastating earthquake will reduce the Eternal City to a pile of rubble, according to widespread rumors on social networking sites which are causing a rising panic among residents.

Allegedly made by Raffaele Bendandi, a long-dead pseudoscientist who is said to have predicted several earthquakes, the forecast is causing a considerable panic in the capital, with many organizing open spaces gatherings on the capital’s outskirts.

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Applications from the capital’s public employees for a day off on May 11 are 20 percent higher than for the same day in 2010, while many parents have already agreed to keep their children away from school.

“Better safe than sorry;” “I know it’s stupid, but I’m scared;” “I’m going to sleep in my car tonight.” Dozens of such comments are appearing on 11 Maggio Terremoto a Roma (11 May Earthquake in Rome), one of several Facebook groups dedicated to Rome’s heralded cataclysm.

Panic is rising with the news that today, just a few hours before the crucial date of May 11, modest quake shocks hit an area some 100 kilometers (62 miles) south of Rome, between the Lazio and the Abruzzo regions. The area is not too far from the central city of L’Aquila which was devastated by an earthquake two years ago. That quake claimed more than 300 lives and was also felt in Rome.

“Seriously, I began to be scared,” wrote the administrator of the Facebook group.

Trying to calm the raising panic, Italy’s National Geophysical and Volcanology Institute (INGV) will open its headquarters to the public tomorrow, and arrange meetings with scientists, guided tours to the monitoring rooms and lectures on earthquakes.

“Earthquakes can’t be predicted. We cannot forecast, nor can we exclude, that a quake will occur on May 11, June 11 or any other date,” INGV said in a statement.

According to Paola Lagorio, the president of an organization dedicated to Bendandi and which preserves all his manuscripts, the forecast doesn’t even originate from Bendandi.

“His manuscripts make no mention to any earthquake in Rome on May 11, 2011,” Lagorio said.

A self-taught astronomer and seismologist, Raffaele Bendandi is said to have predicted several quakes, including the one which struck Friuli in 1976, claiming almost 1,000 lives.

“The earthquake prophet,” who died in 1979 aged 86 and was even awarded a knighthood by Fascist dictator Benito Mussolini for his research, believed earthquakes can be perfectly predictable as they are the direct result of the combined gravitational pulls of the planets, the moon and the sun.

His popularity started in 1923, when he predicted that an earthquake would strike the central region of the Marches on January 2 the following year.

Indeed, a quake hit the region two days after his prediction, gaining him a front page article in the daily Corriere della Sera titled, “The man who forecasts earthquakes.”

“He made more than 100 predictions, and often they were accurate. But there was the problem of the identification of the epicenter. A prediction which is inaccurate by just 10 kilometers (six miles) is considered unreliable, and he often was wrong by hundreds of kilometers,” Lagorio told La Repubblica newspaper.

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Although seismologists are dismissing Bendandi’s theories as groundless, many residents refuse to take a chance and plan to leave the city.

And while many others are skeptical, some appear to be somewhat resigned.

“If everything goes well, Rome will be razed to ground in about 20 seconds. Thus we will not suffer much,” a Rome resident wrote on the Facebook group.

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