Mayan 'prophecy' sparks fear

The clock is ticking down to Dec. 21, the supposed end of the Mayan calendar, and from China to California to Mexico, thousands are getting ready for what they think is going to be a fateful day.

The Maya didn't say much about what would happen next, after a 5,125-year cycle known as the Long Count comes to an end.

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So into that void have rushed occult writers, bloggers and New Age visionaries foreseeing all manner of monumental change, from doomsday to a new age of enlightenment.

The 2009 disaster flick 2012 helped spark doomsday rumours, with its vision of Los Angeles crashing into the sea and mammoth tsunami waves swallowing the Himalayas. Foreboding TV documentaries and alarmist websites followed, sparking panic in parts of the globe thousands of miles from the Mayan homeland of southern Mexico and Central America.

As the big day approaches, governments and scientists alike are mobilizing to avoid actual tragedy. Even the U.S. space agency NASA intervened earlier this month, posting a nearly hour-long YouTube video debunking apocalyptic points, one by one.

The Internet has helped feed the frenzy, spreading rumours that a mountain in the French Pyrenees is hiding an alien spaceship that will be the sole escape from the destruction. French authorities are blocking access to Bugarach peak from Dec. 19-23, except for the village's 200 residents "who want to live in peace," the local prefect said in a news release.

"I think this tells us more about ourselves, particularly in the Western world, than it does about the ancient Maya," said Geoffrey Braswell, associate professor of anthropology and leading Maya scholar at the University of California, San Diego. "The idea that the world will end soon is a strong belief in Western cultures. ... The Maya, we don't really know if they believed the world would ever end."

As the clock ticks down, scenarios have mounted about how the end will come. Some believe a rogue planet called Nibiru will emerge from its hiding place behind the sun and smash into the Earth. Others say a super black hole at the centre of the universe will suck in our planet and smash it to pieces. At least two men in China are predicting a world-ending flood. Both are building arks.

Lu Zhenghai has spent his life savings, some $160,000, building the 21-metre-by-15-metre vessel powered by three diesel engines, according to state media.

"I am afraid that when the end of the world comes, the flood will submerge my house," the 44-year-old ex-army man said.

China's most innovative ark builder, however, may be Yang Zongfu, a 32-year-old businessman in eastern China. His vessel, Atlantis, a threetonne yellow steel ball four metres in diameter, is designed to survive a volcano, tsunami, earthquake or nuclear meltdown, according to the state-run Liao Wang magazine.

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