They spent months warning the world of the apocalypse, some giving away earthly belongings or draining their savings accounts. And so they waited, vigilantly, on Saturday for the appointed hour to arrive.
When 6 p.m. came and went across the United States and various spots around the globe, and no extraordinary cataclysm occurred, some believers expressed confusion, while others reassured each of their faith.
The May 21 doomsday message was sent far and wide via broadcasts and websites by Harold Camping, an 89-year-old retired civil engineer in Oakland, Calif., who has built a multi-million-dollar Christian media empire that publicizes his apocalyptic prediction. According to Camping, the destruction was likely to have begun its worldwide march as it became 6 p.m. in the various time zones, although some believers said Saturday the exact timing was never written in stone.
In New York's Times Square, Robert Fitzpatrick, of Staten Island, said he was surprised when the six o'clock hour simply came and went. He had spent his own money to put up advertising about the end of the world.
"I can't tell you what I feel right now,'' he said, surrounded by tourists. "Obviously, I haven't understood it correctly because we're still here.''
The Internet was alive with discussion, humorous or not, about the end of the world and its apparent failure to occur on cue. Many tweets declared Camping's prediction a dud or shared, tongue-in-cheek, their relief at not having to do weekend chores or take a shower.
The top trends on Twitter at midday included, at No. 1, ``endofworldconfessions,'' followed by ``myraptureplaylist.''
Christian leaders from across the spectrum widely dismissed the prophecy.
"The cold, hard reality is going to hit them that they did this, and it was false and they basically emptied out everything to follow a false teacher,'' the Rev. Jacob Denys, of the Milpitas-based Calvary Bible Church, said earlier. ``We're not all about doom and gloom. Our message is a message of salvation and of hope.''
Revelers counted down the seconds before the anticipated hour, and people began dancing to music as the clock struck 6 p.m. Some released shoe-shaped helium balloons into the sky in an apparent reference to the Rapture.
Camping has preached that some 200 million people would be saved, and that those left behind would die in a series of scourges visiting Earth until the globe is consumed by a fireball on Oct. 21.
Family Radio International's message has been broadcast in 61 languages. He has said that his earlier apocalyptic prediction in 1994 didn't come true because of a mathematical error.
"I'm not embarrassed about it. It was just the fact that it was premature,'' he told The Associated Press last month. But this time, he said, "there is ... no possibility that it will not happen.''
As Saturday drew nearer, followers reported that donations grew, allowing Family Radio to spend millions on more than 5,000 billboards and 20 RVs plastered with the doomsday message. In 2009, the nonprofit reported in IRS filings that it received $18.3 million in donations, and had assets of more than $104 million, including $34 million in stocks or other publicly traded securities.