Earthquakes, volcanoes, tsunamis, floods and mudslides - the scale and frequency of natural disasters in recent times has not only put the world on edge but also has saints and sinners repenting in anticipation of the end of times.
It's certainly difficult to pacify the mood when predictions from both Nostradamus and the Mayan calendar envisage an apocalypse in 2012. It's a veritable feeding frenzy for doomsday cults. Here are some sects that are still going strong - and a few others that are barely able to keep it all together before the big day.
Rocco Leo, the leader of this Adelaide-based doomsday cult, was the subject of a wide-ranging police search last year after stockpiled ammunition was found in shipping containers on several properties owned by the Australian sect.
Its leaders, who believe the apocalypse is coming in 2012, promote a lifestyle that forbids sex before marriage and endorses it only for procreation. But some members reported the group after children as young as six were promised in marriage to middle-aged men. Detractors have said that Leo, known to his followers as 'Brother Rock', preaches that the human race will soon be implanted with mind-controlling microchips that could, with the flick of a switch, trigger a slow-release poison in the devices and kill their hosts. He has allegedly said that those who refuse the chip will be branded terrorists and killed in government concentration camps.
Leo's proposed solution: move the congregation to a balmy South Pacific island. His followers happily handed their money over for the cause and last year began liquidating their assets and selling their homes. Leo was apprehended for assaulting the estranged husband of one of his followers at Adelaide airport and appeared in court last year. He was meant to appear to hear the verdict in January but failed to show up and a warrant for his arrest was issued. Leo is also currently under investigation for fraud.
This California-based cult is making waves in the lead-up to doomsday, predicted for next month. Led by 89-year-old Harold Camping, the group has gained notoriety for its beliefs and its predictions of the end of the world.
Its primary mouthpiece is Family Radio, which streams live online. Camping's previous doomsday prophecy was September 6 1994. But now, based on scriptures in the Bible and some questionable arithmetic, he claims the apocalypse will begin on May 21 this year -- apparently 7 000 years after the Bible says the world was destroyed by floods. Like Noah and his family, only those who subscribe to Family Radio's brand of faith will be spared.
Camping teaches that the success of the gay pride movement further indicates that the end is near, preaching that the acceptance of homosexuality in modern times is in keeping with the city of Sodom before its destruction.
The Raëlian movement was founded in 1974 by French sports-car journalist Claude Vorilhon, who changed his name to Raël after he was visited by aliens known to him as the Elohim. He teaches that the Elohim created Earth and wish to return to it in 2035.
The age of apocalypse, the Elohim apparently told Raël, could be averted only if an embassy was built in Israel to welcome them. Unfortunately, the Raëlian symbol, which looks a lot like a swastika, sank the group's requests for land in the 1990s.
The Raëlian movement has since asked a number of countries to consider hosting the embassy project. On its website it claims that 'several have indicated an interest in allocating space for such an endeavour'. Raël claims he is from a long line of alien prophets who include Muhammad, Jesus and Buddha.
The House of Yahweh
The House of Yahweh (HoY) in Abilene, Texas, is headed by Yisrayl Hawkins, who preaches that his is 'the one true faith'. Other religions, especially Christianity, are 'corrupt and false'. Like Judaism, HoY teaches the keeping of 613 laws and rules found in the Torah. Not following these laws will result in the destruction of humankind. The apocalypse, he believes, will come in the form of a nuclear catastrophe.
Hawkins, who is the former country singer 'Buffalo Bill' Hawkins, prophesied that the end of the world would begin on September 12 2006 and only members of the HoY would survive the nuclear catastrophe to come. He said the 'nuclear baby' would take nine months to form and on June 12 2007 would wreak havoc in and over the Euphrates river, killing 'a third of man over a fourth of the Earth'. But when a nuclear war did not break out, Hawkins released a newsletter to say 'the war was held back by the Inspiration of Yahweh'. A new date has yet to be set, but Hawkins continues to teach that the war could come as early as this year.
When the United Nations resolved to restore Israel as a nation on November 30 1947, a prophecy in the Book of Daniel was seemingly fulfilled. Gabriel had appeared to the prophet to say that, when the decree was issued to restore and rebuild Jerusalem, there would begin a countdown to when 'the end will come like a flood'.
That's how Dewey Bruton sees it anyway. He developed Daniel's Timeline, a countdown of 70 years based on a patchwork of evidence from several books of the Bible, which began in 1947. On the Daniel's Timeline website, Bruton says his predictions are a culmination of 20 years of studying the end times. He notes that, although there have been countless incorrect predictions, his is accurate. The seven years of tribulation, he says, began in 2010 and mankind will face destruction in 2017.
The People's Temple came to a gruesome end when its leader, Jim Jones, persuaded more than 900 followers to consume Kool-Aid laced with cyanide in November 1978 on the sect's agricultural holding in South America, known to them as Jonestown. Jones preached of an imminent nuclear war and convinced his congregation that, after death, they would move to another planet and live a life of bliss. Chilling recordings, known as the death tapes, documented Jones' last speech to his flock that evening.
Shoko Asahara started a yoga class in 1987. It quickly transformed into a cult called Aum Shinrikyo meaning 'Supreme Truth'. After a failed attempt to win the 1990 Japanese elections, the blind leader began preaching that the end of the world would come in 1997. Asahara told his followers to prepare for Armageddon and they constructed nuclear shelters and communes.
The cult manufactured sarin gas and released it into the Tokyo subway system in 1995, killing 11 and injuring 5000. Asahara is now on death row. The cult has since reformed under the name Aleph, and has distanced itself from the actions of its predecessor.
More than 500 Ugandans committed mass suicide on March 17 2000 in anticipation of the end of the world. Members of the Movement for the Restoration of the Ten Commandments boarded up windows and doors and sang for hours before dousing themselves in gasoline and paraffin and setting themselves alight. Police found nearly 400 additional bodies in shallow graves on land belonging to the cult soon after. Some of the victims appeared to have been strangled or stabbed.
The former engineer and leader of the True Russian Orthodox Church, Pyotr Kuznetsov, ordered his followers (all 35 of them) into a remote underground bunker on November 2007 as he believed the world would end in May 2008. But Kuznetsov was arrested on November 17 2007 and was unable to go underground. He was held for psychiatric evaluation and subsequently received treatment for schizophrenia. Police struggled to coax the members out of the underground chamber where they had been hiding for six months. They eventually surfaced when parts of the bunker caved in. The Times of London reported that Kuznetsov, upon returning home, attempted to kill himself by hitting his head with a log.
The Awaiting Christ group fell away in 2003 after police found eight bodies illegally buried in the group's compound in Mandela Park in Mthatha in the Eastern Cape, who had died from natural causes. Community members said the cult would not allow for children to be sent to school, for the sick to receive treatment or for members to work. The group awaited the end of the world in December of that year but 15 members were arrested in February and the rest were swiftly sent back to their respective home towns.
Elizabeth Prophet, the leader of the Church Universal and Triumphant, predicted the world would end in 1990 through a nuclear strike by the Soviet Union against the United States, noting there would be particular tension on April 23. More than 2 000 of her followers left their homes and gathered at the church's compound in Montana where they stockpiled weapons, food and clothing in underground bomb shelters. But when nothing happened, many members left the sect.