Romans gripped by fear of quake forecast for May 11

ROME Mon May 9, 2011 9:45am EDT

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ROME (Reuters) - If tourists find Rome unusually quiet next Wednesday, the reason will probably be that thousands of locals have left town in fear of a devastating earthquake allegedly forecast for that day by a long-dead seismologist.

For months Italian internet sites, blogs and social networks have been debating the work of Raffaele Bendandi, who claimed to have forecast numerous earthquakes and, according to internet rumors, predicted a "big one" in Rome on May 11.

The national television network RAI has run programs aimed at calming rising panic among Romans. The civil protection agency has issued statements reiterating the official scientific view that earthquakes can't be predicted.

Yet many residents of the Eternal City aren't listening.

"I'm going to tell the boss I've got a medical appointment and take the day off," barman Fabio Mengarelli told Reuters. "If I have to die I want to die with my wife and kids, and masses of people will do the same as me."

Chef Tania Cotorobai also said she would be taking a day off in the country. "I don't know if I really believe it but if you look at the internet you see everything and the opposite of everything, and it end up making you nervous," she said.

Memories are still vivid of the 2009 earthquake in L'Aquila, which killed more than 300 people and was also felt in Rome.

On that occasion controversy also swirled around a scientist, Giampaolo Giuliani, who in the preceding days tried to warn the local population of an imminent quake -- though officials say he was wrong about its precise location.

Bendandi, who died in 1979 aged 86, believed earthquakes were the result of the combined movements of the planets, the moon and the sun and were perfectly predictable.

In 1923 he forecast a quake would hit the central Adriatic region of the Marches on January 2 the following year. He was wrong by two days but Italy's main newspaper Corriere della Sera still ran a front page article on "The man who forecasts earthquakes."

Bendandi's fame grew and in 1927 he was awarded a knighthood by Fascist dictator Benito Mussolini. During his long career his theories were studied by several prominent foreign astronomers.

However the current panic appears to be due more to fear-mongering in the age of internet than to Bendandi himself.

Paola Lagorio, the president of an association dedicated to Bendandi and which preserves all his manuscripts, says they make no reference to any earthquake around Rome in 2011.

(Editing by Mark Heinrich)

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Comments (2)
WRL wrote:
Human beings (and yes I’m one of them) are terrible at evaluating risks rationally. This is just another example.

May 09, 2011 12:52pm EDT  --  Report as abuse
SummerSausage wrote:
Everyone, please step back from the flow of life and re-assess the risks you take each day.

Why worry about dying in a plane crash when you fly down the highway at 55 miles an hour in a metal box on rubber wheels with only a thin strip of polyester holding you in? Why worry about an earthquake when you’re more likely to die from a lightening strike?

Don’t worry so much about dying from rare events that cannot be predicted; like earthquakes (and car crashes for that matter. Just drive safe out there). The stress is literally going to kill you faster.

May 09, 2011 8:50pm EDT  --  Report as abuse
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