Earthquake fever hits Rome as some fear "the big one"

Wed May 11, 2011 12:09pm EDT
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By Philip Pullella

ROME (Reuters) - A prediction that a huge earthquake would destroy Rome Wednesday prompted fear in some people and giggles of ridicule in others but officials assured the populace that the Eternal City would not be rubble by midnight.

The Internet-driven story of an impending tremor has dominated blogs, social networks and talk shows for days, so much so that authorities from the mayor down have issued statements saying earthquakes are impossible to predict.

That did not deter thousands of people from staying away from work and heading for the countryside or the parks.

According to the consumer group ADUC, some 20 percent of Romans did not go to work and rural hotels outside the capital reported higher than normal bookings. Rome's notoriously heavy traffic did appear lighter than normal for a Wednesday in May.

One neighborhood that came down with a bad case of earthquake fever was Chinatown, where many shopkeepers kept stores shuttered and put up signs saying they were closed for weddings, inventories or "serious family problems."

"They have all gone away because they are scared of the earthquake," said Bangladeshi street seller Shouman who usually receives his cheap goods from a Chinese salesman.

An Italian barman in the same neighborhood wore a hard hat while he served coffee as a gesture to show he thought the predictions were absurd.

The fear was caused by a faction of followers of Raffaele Bendandi, who died more than 30 years ago.   Continued...

<p>A combination photo of shops with signs reading "close for family reasons" (L, top and bottom) or "close for inventory" (R, bottom) and "close for a wedding" in the Chinatown district in Rome May 11, 2011. REUTERS/Alessandro Bianchi</p>