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Romans brace for huge earthquake predicted for May 11

Thousands of Italians had reportedly fled Rome, believing that an enormous earthquake predicted for on May 11 would shatter the Eternal city.

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An aerial view of Rome showing the Colosseum on May 11, 2011. Thousands of alarmed Italians are fleeing the capital amid rumours that a seismologist has predicted a devastating earthquake will strike the Eternal City. (STR/AFP/Getty Images)

A prediction that a massive earthquake that would destroy Rome, Italy, on Wednesday — fanned by Twitter, Facebook, blogs and talk shows — caused widespread panic in the city.

Thousands of people in the Italian capital are staying home from work in response to the Internet buzz over a quake prediction supposedly made decades ago by the late pseudoscientist Raffaele Bendandi, the BBC reports.

Bendandi, who died in 1979 at the age of 86, became famous in the 1920s and '30s after claiming he could accurately tell when earthquakes would strike by studying the movements of the sun, the moon and the planets. 

However, seismologists in Italy have said Bendandi's theories were without any scientific proof and that while there had been 22 earthquakes by midday Wednesday — described as "perfectly normal" for the country — none had the devastating effects predicted.  

'It is not scientifically possible to predict the exact date that an earthquake will occur,''said  Alessandro Amato, who works at Italy's Institute of Geophysics and Volcanology, Sky News reported.

And the owners of Bendandi's papers swear there's no record he actually said a quake would strike Rome on May 11. 

But Bendandi is said to have predicted other earthquakes which hit Italy during the last hundred years, before his death in 1979. 

In 1923 he forecast a quake would hit the central Adriatic on Jan. 2 the following year: He was wrong by two days, but the prophesy won him the nickname "earthquake predictor" in the media.

The theories of Bendandi, once awarded a knighthood by Fascist dictator Benito Mussolini, were studied by astronomers and seismologists but roundly debunked.

Still, his May 11 prediction seemed to be having an effect on modern-day Rome.

As many as 18 percent of city employees called in sick, according to some media reports, and Rome's notorious traffic appeared lighter than normal for a Wednesday in May, Reuters reports.

The Guardian adds that, "education officials were said to be expecting school attendances to be down by a fifth as parents decide it is better to be on the safe side."

NPR reports that thousands of Italians were fleeing Rome this week.

http://www.globalpost.com/dispatch/news/regions/europe/italy/110511/rome-earthquake-prediction-may-11-facebook-twitter-sickie-internet-viral