Italian officials yesterday went to extraordinary lengths to try to debunk an urban legend predicting a devastating earthquake in Rome.
The Civil Protection department posted a dense information packet on its Web site stressing that quakes could not be predicted and that Rome was not particular at risk.
Toll-free numbers had been set aside at city hall to field questions.
The national geophysics institute opened its doors to the public to inform the curious and the concerned about seismology.
The effort was all designed to debunk a purported prediction of a major Roman quake on May 11 this year, attributed to self-taught seismologist Raffaele Bendandi, who died in 1979.
The only problem is Bendandi never made the prediction, said Paola Lagorio, president of the association in charge of Bendandi’s documentation.
Lagorio said there was no evidence in Bendandi’s papers of any such precise a prediction and blamed unidentified forces who wanted to “frighten people and create this situation of panic that is attributed to a prediction Bendandi never made.”
Despite her denials and the concerted effort by seismologists to calm nerves, some Romans took precautionary measures. Italian agriculture lobby Coldiretti reported on Tuesday that a survey of farm-hotels around the capital indicated that many Romans were leaving town for the day.
“One cannot speak of an exodus, but there are cases of entire families that have decided to leave the city for the country,” Coldiretti said in a statement.
Officials blamed the media and viral rumor-mongering on the Internet for fueling fears. On Tuesday, the Rome daily La Repubblica headlined its Rome section “Holiday and exodus, earthquake psychosis,” reporting both official denials of a quake alongside predictions that many offices would be empty that day.
Consumer group Codacons lodged a formal complaint with Rome prosecutors on Tuesday denouncing media outlets that added to the alarm.
That said, there was likely to be an earthquake yesterday: On average, there are 30 earthquakes registered every day in Italy, according to the National Institute of Geophysics and Vulcanology. Rome, however, has only a moderate seismic risk compared with more volatile regions in the Apennine mountains.
The last major quake in the region was the magnitude 6.3 earthquake that struck the central Italian city of L’Aquila and its surroundings on April 6, 2009. More than 300 people were killed in the quake zone. The temblor was felt in Rome, 120km away, but caused no damage in the capital.