Apocalypse almost: World waits for Rapture

The end is not nigh, according to the New Zealand Skeptics, despite an American religious leader declaring Judgement Day would arrive first in New Zealand at 6pm today.

Evangelical broadcaster Harold Camping has predicted a massive earthquake will strike the earth, unleashing the Apocalypse, first upon New Zealand, then around the world.

The 89-year-old had previously incorrectly predicted the end of the world in 1994.

But the head of the Christian radio network Family Stations Inc now says he is sure an earthquake will shake the planet today, sweeping true believers to heaven and leaving others behind to be engulfed in the world's destruction over a few months.

"We know without any shadow of a doubt it is going to happen," said Camping, whose Family Radio broadcasts in more than 30 languages and on US and international stations.

His supporters have posted about 2200 billboards around the United States about the coming Apocalypse, and dozens of followers are driving across the country to spread the news.

Volunteers also handed out pamphlets warning about May 21 as far away as the Philippines, telling people God had left clear signs the world was coming to an end.

However, New Zealand Skeptic Society media spokeswoman Vicky Hyde told NZPA she was confident of waking up tomorrow with the world unchanged.

"These kind of predictions come up particularly in times of economic or social uncertainty - which is pretty much almost every year actually, you can track them, whether it's commentary impacts or the rapture or giant space aliens or something. And the only thing they have in common is they are all wrong."

The most serious repercussions behind predictions of the world ending was there was often a jump in murders and suicides, Ms Hyde said.

Website, What's The Harm, has reported more than 1800 cases of murder and suicide associated with people believing the end of the world is coming.

Ms Hyde said she was "confident" Camping's prediction was completely wrong.

"I've lived through so many ends of the world even in my relatively short lifetime."

Auckland Catholic Church spokeswoman Lyndsay Freer told NZPA church attendance had not increased at all since Camping's warnings.

She described his prediction as "scaremongering nonsense", that had nothing to do with scripture.

"We're not superstitious here."

There was no indication in the Bible for when the Apocalypse would strike, she said.

Camping, a civil engineer who ran his own construction business before turning to evangelism, told Reuters he planned to spend May 21 with his wife and watch the doomsday unfold.

"I'll probably try to be very near a TV or a radio or something," he said. "I'll be interested in what's happening on the other side of the world as this begins."

Like his last prediction, Camping's doomsday date is based on his reading of the Bible and a timeline dating back to ancient events including the Biblical flood survived by Noah.

The fact that Camping wrongly predicted the end of the world once before has left others willing to make fun of him.

New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg - who is Jewish and therefore, according to Camping's prophecy, unlikely to be beamed up to sit alongside Jesus and God in heaven - said on his weekly radio show Friday that he would suspend alternate-side parking in New York if the world ends on Saturday.

The much-reviled parking rule requires New Yorkers to move their cars from one side of the street to the other to allow street cleaning to be carried out.

And some are cashing in on money-making opportunities.

Craigslist was running tens of thousands of ads from non-believers offering to buy the worldly goods of those who think they're going to heaven, while a group of US atheists has sold hundreds of contracts to rescue people's pets.

If Camping's prediction does not pan out, one idea is gathering steam on Twitter to create an ersatz Rapture.

A tweet suggests laying out old clothing and shoes on pavements and lawns on Saturday to give the impression that someone has indeed been beamed up.

- AFP, NZPA

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