WASHINGTON, May 22 – The prophecy of the end of the world ended with a whimper, not a bang, Saturday as life went on as usual despite warnings of Judgment Day by a US preacher which provoked panic in some quarters and parties in others.
Televangelist Harold Camping had insisted the so-called "Rapture" would begin with powerful earthquakes at 6:00 pm local time in each of the world\’s regions, with worthy souls transported to heaven.
According to the 89-year-old and his religious broadcasting network Family Radio, the not-so-good were to suffer hell on earth until October 21, when God pulls the plug on the planet once and for all.
One of the first places to be hit, according to Camping, who first wrongly predicted the end of the world in 1994, would be New Zealand — but 6:00 pm came and went with no earthquakes and little local media attention.
Similarly in Europe and the United States, the deadline arrived with little fanfare, and even fewer people ascending dramatically to heaven.
Internet users, meanwhile, joked about creating a fake Rapture if Camping\’s prediction did not pan out.
On Twitter, non-believers suggested laying out old clothing and shoes on pavements and lawns to give the impression that someone had indeed been beamed up, or releasing inflatable dolls into the sky.
In the US capital, at least 400 people were expected to the celebrate the rapture not occurring, at an "End of the World Party."
Suicide prevention hotlines meanwhile had been set up, according to the Washington Post, amid fears despondent Family Radio followers would be depressed if the apocalypse fails to materialize.
In the United States, where Camping\’s evangelizing group is based, some people had quit their jobs and hit the road to urge others to repent before it was too late.
In Australia, another early target of Camping\’s doomsday predictions, Christians greeted news of the end of the world with skepticism and humor before the fateful hour passed without incident.
"It\’s not being taken seriously at all," theologian Ian Packer from the Australian Evangelical Alliance told AFP, saying the May 21 deadline was being greeted with "openly humorous talk."
"Aside from hearing about Harold Camping in the media, we would not have known about his existence," he added.
In Vietnam, thousands of ethnic Hmong converged on northwestern Dien Bien province a few weeks ago after hearing broadcasts on Camping\’s global religious broadcasting network that Jesus was coming on May 21.
Hundreds are believed to be hiding in forests after security forces dispersed those who were awaiting the supposed return of Jesus Christ, a resident said.
The fact that Camping\’s predictions have been wrong before has left even high-profile people willing to make fun of him.
New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg — who is Jewish — said on his weekly radio show that he would suspend alternate side street parking 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 take place.
And some were cashing in on money-making opportunities.
The Craigslist website ran 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.
Camping came up with his prediction using a calculation that started with the supposed the year of the Great Flood, 4990 BC, added 7,000 years because, in the Bible, God "reminds us that one day is as 1,000 years," and then subtracted one because of a glitch when passing from the Old to the New Testament calendars.
The group American Atheists was hosting rapture parties around the country but also warned of the danger of following Camping\’s predictions.
"We\’re going to poke fun at these people, but in the end we need to keep in mind that there are people being hurt here," said David Silverman, president of the US-based group.
"We\’re hoping people look at this and learn to use their brains … so we don\’t have an occurrence of this in 2012," when some believe the Mayas predicted the Earth\’s demise.