Earthquake Prophecy Sends Thousands Fleeing from Rome

A self-taught seismologist predicted in 1979 that a "big one" would hit today

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Legend has it that before his death in 1979, the self-taught Italian seismologist Raffaele Bendandi predicted that a massive earthquake would strike Rome on May 11, 2011. Well, here we are, and the AP is reporting that while 22 minor earthquakes hit Italy by noon (this, apparently, is normal), Bendandi's "big one" has yet to materialize.

That's not to say that the prophesy itself, building strength on the Internet, hasn't rocked the city. According to The Telegraph, one in five Romans requested time off work today, others are keeping children home from school or hightailing it to the beach or countryside, and local newspapers are publishing survival guides. Reuters reports that in Rome's Chinatown, many shopkeepers shuttered their stores and posted signs saying they were closed for "serious family reasons" or "for a wedding" (the sign above reads, "Closed for inventory from May 10 to 12"). Italian officials, according to the AP, went into full myth-debunking mode: The country's Civil Protection department posted information on its website emphasizing that quakes can't be predicted, city hall answered questions via toll-free numbers, state TV ran special programs, and the national geophysics institute had an open house to teach the public about seismology.

Italy isn't the only country focused on earthquakes today. Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan has announced that he plans to build two earthquake-resistant "cities" in the Istanbul area to encourage people to leave the capital's earthquake-prone areas. The AP explains that Istanbul sits near a major fault-line and suffers from overcrowding and shoddy city planning and construction. In 1999, two earthquakes in northwestern Turkey killed 18,000 people.

Reuters tells us that Bendandi, who believed earthquakes could be predicted by studying planetary movements, issued a forecast about a 1923 earthquake that was only two days off, earning the nickname "earthquake predictor" and, in 1927, knighthood from Fascist dictator Benito Mussolini. Some of Bendandi's disciples, however, claim there's no evidence that the seismologist predicted Rome's "big one" would take place on May 11, 2011. No, Reuters says, these followers believe it's going to happen on April 6, 2521. A panic, deferred.

This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.