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Italians evacuate Rome over earthquake fears
The panic has been fanned by Facebook, Twitter and text messages around a prediction by Raffaele Bendandi, a seismologist who forecast, almost 100 years ago, that a "big one" would hit Rome on May 11, 2011.
Bendandi believed movement of plates - and therefore earthquakes - were the result of the combined movements of the planets, the moon and the sun and perfectly predictable.
In 1923 he predicted a quake would hit central Italy on January 2 of the following year – and missed it by only two days.
He is also said to have predicted other earthquakes that hit Italy during the last hundred years before his death in 1979.
Though seismologists insist that Bendandi's theories lack any scientific proof and that earthquakes are completely unpredictable, businesses have reported requests from one in five people for time off work today. Many are also keeping their children away from school and heading to the beach or country for the day.
Romans are taking it so seriously that local newspapers have been publishing survival guides with tips on what to do during an earthquake.
Fascist dictator Benito Mussolini gave Bendandi a knighthood for his work – and ordered him not to make any more predictions for fear that he would create immense panic.
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