Three of the 14 remaining members of a Russian cult left the cave in which they had been waiting for the Apocalypse, after their shelter threatened to crumble. (Story: K. Williams)
Three of the last 14 members of a Russian doomsday sect left their collapsing cave on Wednesday after five months barricaded underground waiting for the Apocalypse, officials said.
A woman and her two children emerged from a muddy hole in a windswept ravine some 700 kilometres (435 miles) southeast of Moscow after the cult's leader tried to convince the rest of his followers to come to the surface.
"Now there are only 11 left... All the children are now above ground," Oleg Melnichenko, deputy governor of Penza region, told journalists at the site.
Efforts to convince the others are to continue on Thursday, officials said.
Thirty-five members of the Orthodox Christian sect, which believes bar codes on shop products are the work of the devil, barricaded themselves in the cave in November to await the Apocalypse, which they calculated would come in May.
The sect members threatened to blow themselves up with gas canisters if anyone tried to force them out.
But seven of the cult followers were forced to come out last week and 14 more emerged on Tuesday because of the collapse of part of the cave as water seeped through from melting snow.
"They said that God signalled them by making the cave fall apart," Melnichenko said. "The rest of them are waiting for a further sign. They are praying and will ask for, I don't know, some kind of hint."
The cult's leader, Pyotr Kuznetsov, entered the cave on Wednesday through a hole left by the latest collapse.
"Pyotr said God had collapsed the cave and to go against God is a great sin," Melnichenko said.
"We hope to convince (the last members) to come out before the end of the day," he added.
But the deputy government later told Interfax that cult members still holed up in the cave had violently struck at Kuznetsov, leaving him with head injuries.
Kuznetsov was earlier discharged by a local psychiatric hospital as part of the negotiations and now lives with members of the sect in a house in the nearby farming village of Nikolskoye where he grew up.
Before leaving the cave on Tuesday, sect members asked for guarantees that they could retreat to a nearby house and remain undisturbed as they waited for the end of the world, officials said.
Sect members who came out of the cave were able to clean themselves in a traditional Russian sauna after going months without running water, Melnichenko said. They refused to talk to journalists.
"I'm just amazed that after such a long period of seclusion without sunlight, without fresh food, that they are completely fine," said Vasily Sapegin, a doctor who examined the children who emerged Wednesday.
The cult members are a splinter group from Russia's Orthodox Church who believe that the outer world is sinful and have rejected all aspects of modernity -- including electricity and telephones.
They were given a cow by local authorities after they said they could not use milk from cartons since it carried bar codes, which they believe are sinful, Interfax news agency reported.
Rescuers from the emergency situations ministry on Wednesday used their hands to clear mud from the collapsed entrance of the cave to avoid sparking a further collapse, local government official Valery Trazanov told journalists.
Teams of rescuers, doctors, psychologists, police and Orthodox priests were on standby near the ravine.
Date created : 2008-04-02