Judgment Day doesn't dawn
Alameda - An American evangelical broadcaster whose end-of-the-world prophecy this year stirred a media frenzy has vanished from public view and the airwaves before his recalibrated doomsday date set for Friday.
After the apocalypse he predicted for May 21 failed to happen, Harold Camping emerged from a brief seclusion to say he had merely miscalculated by five months. He pronounced a new Judgment Day - October 21.
The next month, the now 90-year-old former civil engineer suffered a stroke, his California-based Christian radio network said. He has largely dropped out of sight since then and his daily radio programme Open Forum, broadcast on more than 60 US stations, has been cancelled.
Believers once fanned out nationwide with placards advertising Camping's message - some giving up life savings in anticipation of being swept into heaven - but there is little sign they are following the new doomsday countdown.
Gone, too, are the billboards posted by Camping's Family Radio network declaring Judgment Day was at hand.
Reached by telephone on Thursday, network spokesperson Tom Evans declined to comment on Camping or his prophecies, except to say he had "retired" as a radio host but remained chair of the board of Family Stations Inc.
Camping had little to say when he answered the door of his home in Alameda, wearing a bathrobe and leaning on a walker.
"We're not having a conversation," he said, shaking his head with a chuckle. "There's nothing to report here."
Municipal records show a Sunday prayer group led by Camping, the Alameda Bible Fellowship, has continued to meet weekly in a large ground-floor room of the Veterans Memorial Building leased by the city's Recreation and Park Department.
Marcia Tsang, a facilities co-ordinator for the department, said receipts show Camping's group rented the space since at least 1996, paying the standard fee of $45 an hour. The room remains assigned to his fellowship under an evergreen reservation that extends beyond this week, she said.
American Legion officer Ron Parshall, part of a veterans group that meets in an adjacent room one Sunday a month, said he has seen Camping leading Bible services there regularly.
He said the number of Camping's followers at the prayer meetings seems to have dwindled since the failed May 21 prophecy - down to about 25 adults on a typical Sunday - plus about 20 youngsters attending Sunday school classes in conjunction with the prayer group.
Parshall said when he saw Camping about a month ago, he showed no signs of debilitation and "wasn't limping at all".
"He was a nice man," Parshall said. "He was just too radical for me. Anyone who claims to be that close to God, I take it with a grain of salt."