Oddly Enough

Rain threatens Russian doomsday cult's bunker

NIKOLSKOE, Russia (Reuters) - Russian authorities urged 28 members of a doomsday cult on Sunday to leave the mud bunker in which they are awaiting the end of the world, saying spring rain may trigger its collapse at any time.

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The doomsday cult members have been barricaded in an underground shelter dug out of a muddy hillside gully in the Penza region of central Russia since October.

They have been refusing to come out until the end of the world, which they predict will happen in late April or May.

“Negotiations to get the people out are ongoing, and we have explained that there is a danger of collapse if they remain in the cave,” said Oleg Melnichenko, vice-governor of Penza region and head of the Russian government’s operation here.

“Right now we are here to make sure they don’t suffocate.”

On Friday a small mud slide near the entrance to the dugout isolated seven women from the remaining cult members, forcing the women to abandon their refuge and relocate to a small wooden home in the village of Nikolskoe, 750 km (450 miles) southeast of Moscow where they remain cloistered in prayer.

Four children remain inside the bunker.

The cult’s spiritual leader, Pyotr Kuznetsov, ducked in and out of the dull grey wooden home where the women were sheltering, shielding his face from journalists.

Doctors had temporarily released him from a regional mental hospital, where he was undergoing court-ordered psychiatric treatment.

In November Kuznetsov watched as his followers, a small sect of Orthodox Christians who predict an apocalypse either in May or coinciding with Orthodox Easter on April 27, shut themselves off from the outside world in the bunker, which was stocked up with supplies last summer.

Kuznetsov did not join them, saying God had called him to other tasks. He was arrested, but charges were dropped after psychiatrists determined him unfit to stand trial.

Russian authorities have kept watch over the dugout since November, and said the cult members were afraid of media attention, otherwise they would have come out sooner.

“We are doing everything these people ask of us to prevent anybody suffering in vain,” said Vladimir Provotorov, a regional municipal administrator.

“They would have come out a long time ago, but as long as there are journalists here, we aren’t meeting their conditions” for negotiations to come out, he said.

Weather forecasts for the week show rains, which in the narrow gully where the doomsday cult built their dugout would send more grey mud sliding through the bare stands of birch and linden trees, possibly collapsing the structure from within.

Additional reporting by Dmitry Madorsky