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Friday, November 19, 1999 Published at 16:03 GMT


Millennium sect heads for the hills

By John MacLean in Manila

The advent of the new millennium may be a cause for celebrations for many people, but for some it is a cause for trepidation.

A religious sect in the Philippines believes that the new millennium will mean the end of the world, so it has gone to the lengths of constructing a warren of caverns where its followers can shelter from a rain of fire that they believe will destroy the earth.

Dug into a hillside near a village in the eastern Philippine province of Leyte is an underground fortress consisting of around 50 caverns.

World destruction

Together, these caverns are big enough to accommodate 128 families - more than 700 people - from the Christian sect.

The caverns, which took more than a year to construct, vary in size. The biggest is able to house 24 families.

The leader of the sect is a faith-healer who concluded that the end is nigh after reading an article about the millennium in a magazine.

The magazine now adorns an alter that the sect has built.

Stocking up

They are now being stocked with enough food, water, fuel, clothing and herbal medicine to allow the occupants to survive underground, they hope, for up to a year.

Members of the sect are due to assemble there on 20 December to await the end of the world.

Asked what would happen if the rain of fire failed to materialise, their leader replied: "Then that will be a happy time for all of us".

The Philippines is a predominantly Roman Catholic country, but there are hundreds of religious sects with unconventional ideas.

One such sect even regards the former president Ferdinand Marcos as an object of worship.

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