Still intact: Rome's Colosseum. Photo courtesy Rossella Lorenzi
Some 25 quakes struck Italy today, but none of them was the devastating temblor predicted to destroy Rome on May 11, 2011.
According to the Facebook and Twitter rumor mill, the Colosseum, the Pantheon and St Peter's, as well as the rest of the Eternal City, would be reduced to a pile of rubble by midnight.
The prediction was attributed to Raffaele Bendandi, a long-dead pseudoscientist who is said to have heralded several earthquakes, including the one which struck Friuli in 1976, claiming almost 1,000 lives.
However Paola Lagorio, the president of an organization dedicated to Bendandi and which preserves all his manuscripts, denied that the forecast originated from the self-taught astronomer and seismologist who died in 1979 aged 86.
"His manuscripts make no mention to any earthquake in Rome on May 11, 2011," Lagorio said.
The minor quakes that did occur in northern Italy are normal for a seismic prone country.
"On average, there are 30 earthquakes registered every day in Italy," the National Institute of Geophysics and Vulcanology said in a statement.
Trying to calm a raising panic, the organization opened its headquarters to the public today, arranging meetings with scientists, guided tours and lectures on earthquakes.
But despite reassurances and remarks that quakes can never be predicted, many Romans left the capital.
"One out of five people did not go to work today, while rural and beach hotels outside Rome reported higher than normal bookings," said Primo Mastrantoni, secretary of the consumer group ADUC.
In the Chinatown district in the Esquiline hill and near the central train station, many storefronts were shuttered, with shopkeepers leaving notices saying they were closed due to "family problem," "illness" or "stocking."
"The day is not over yet;" "Bendandi might have been wrong by a few days;" "I would wait until May 15th before saying this was a stupid rumor." Many of such comments are appearing on the web page 11 Maggio Terremoto a Roma (May 11 Earthquake in Rome), one of several Facebook groups dedicated to Rome's heralded cataclysm.
Indeed Bendandi's most famous earthquake forecast was inaccurate by only two days. In 1923 he predicted that an earthquake would strike the central region of the Marches on January 2 the following year.
A quake actually hit the region two days after his prediction, earning him a front page article in the daily Corriere della Sera titled, "The Man Who Forecasts Earthquakes."
Awarded a knighthood by Fascist dictator Benito Mussolini for his research, Bendandi believed that earthquakes are the direct result of the combined gravitational pulls of the planets, the moon and the sun, thus they are perfectly predictable.
"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.
That is the case of the crucial date of May 11, according to comments spreading on social networking sites just after the news of a deadly earthquake in southern Spain.
Hitting the town of Lorca, the seism left at least seven people dead while several medieval buildings collapsed.
"I'm getting goose bumps. After all this quake talking, a strong earthquake really hit Spain, and several people are now dead," wrote one subscriber of the May 11 Earthquake Facebook group.