Doomsday hysteria reaches fever-pitch ahead of 11.12am apocalypse deadline
IF you are reading this after 11.12am, it's likely that committed apocalypse theorists are now feeling rather silly.
With any luck, the world hasn't ended – as some believe the Mayans predicted for today – and aliens haven't emerged from spaceships inside a French mountain to beam locals to safety.
Scientists have done their best over the past week to reassure us that the end was far from nigh, but last night, survivalists and doomsday cultists prepared to take their final stands in forests and on mountain tops around the world.
The latest outpouring of apocalyptic angst mixed with fatalism and dark humour has been fuelled by internet rumours of interplanetary catastrophe and atavistic concerns that a milestone in the 5,000-year-old Mayan Long Count calendar meant December 21, 2012 would be the Earth's last.
But, in some parts of the world, the desire to believe the worst was proving unstoppable. In China the authorities arrested 1,000 members of an end-of-the-world cult called Almighty God which was predicting a global checkout later today.
The crackdown came after weeks in which members had clashed with police across seven provinces following calls to rise up against the Communist Party.
In Russia, where a 24-hour party was being held in a Cold War-era nuclear bunker for Muscovites willing to spend $1,000 (€755) on a ticket, President Putin reassured the public that they had at least 4.5 billion years left before the sun ran out of fuel and destroyed the solar system. And even this was not a source of concern. "Why be afraid if it's inevitable," he told reporters.
Bugarach in southern France, claimed by the Mayans to be the only place which would be saved from the apocalypse, was overrun by journalists.
It was rumoured that aliens would land on the "sacred mountain" to save humans from the conflagration, but the local mayor urged people to stay away.
Most doomsdayists heeded his pleas, but the village found itself overrun by 250 journalists who had been despatched from across the world to cover the "story" at first hand.
The sacred mountain in the French Pyrenees had competition from Mount Rtanj, a pyramid-shaped peak in Serbia.
A local legend has it that the mountain once swallowed an evil sorcerer who will be released on doomsday in a ball of fire that will hit the mountain top. The inside of the mountain will then open up, becoming a safe place to hide as the sorcerer goes on to destroy the rest of the world.
In the meantime, some old coal mine shafts have been opened up as safe rooms for the crowds that have arrived.
"We got calls from as far away as Holland from people trying to seek shelter," said Vlada Minic, a local villager. "They are asking to be as close as possible to the mountain."
Doomsday believers have also been making their way to the Turkish village of Sirince, after claims that it would also be the only place to be spared.
Meanwhile, Dutchman Pieter Frank van der Meer made headlines worldwide after converting a lifeboat into an "ark" for 50 friends and relatives.
Yesterday he was bracing himself for the flood. "The planets are aligned that day. That is unique. On that day, energy will be released and the sun will activate. A large solar flare can cause a tsunami or a second deluge," he said.
But although the website Slooh.com said it would be live-streaming feeds from its telescopes in the Cayman Islands and Arizona just in case, NASA scientists said there was no need for alarm.
The agency produced a four-minute video entitled 'Why The World Didn't End Yesterday', which has been viewed five million times.
However, elsewhere in the US, survival stores reported a surge in the sale of gas masks, duct tape and ready meals.
Mexico, home to important Mayan relics, welcomed new-agers who were gathering to proclaim not the end but a "new dawn".
Experts have pointed out that the Mayans measured time in 394-year periods known as baktuns. And while the 13th baktun concludes today, archaeologists have uncovered glyphs that refer to dates far into the future. (© Independent News Service)