Fourteen more members of a Russian doomsday cult emerged on Tuesday from the remote underground bunker where they had been holed up for six months awaiting the end of the world.
A local official said part of their dugout collapsed, persuading the cult members God was sending them a message to come to the surface. Another 14 people were still in the dugout but officials were hopeful they too would come out.
"At 7:20 they began coming out voluntarily and said that God had given them a signal to leave after the fourth partial cave-in," said Oleg Melnichenko, deputy governor of the Penza region where members have been holed up since October.
"Fourteen people came out, among them two young girls aged eight and 12," Melnichenko told Reuters on the remote hillside near to the mouth of the dugout.
"All are in good health, considering they have spent half a year underground. They have refused medical attention and are now in a house, praying, where they say they will stay until Orthodox Easter (on April 27)."
He said the remaining 14 members were in another chamber that had been cut off from the exit by the cave-in and that negotiations were ongoing to persuade them to leave. Rescue workers were preparing to dig down to them.
The cult members had earlier said they would not come out before the apocalypse, which their leader Pavel Kuznetsov -- who is now undergoing court-ordered psychiatric treatment -- had predicted would happen in April or May this year.
Seven female cult members left the dugout at the weekend after meltwater caused part of the earth structure to collapse.
WORK OF SATAN
The sect is a splinter group of the Russian Orthodox church. They reject processed food and say bar codes on products are the work of Satan.
Officials had for weeks been trying to persuade the cult members to come out, negotiating through a ventilation shaft.
A Reuters reporter was able to crawl down into the now empty part of the bunker that was not cut off by the cave-in.
A muddy tunnel that stretched for about 5 meters (16 ft) opened out into a chamber large enough to stand upright in.
Inside the chamber there were empty plastic bottles, a chess set, mattresses and pages from a children`s book. On the walls somebody had carved out large images of flowers and plants.
Belongings left on the surface as they emerged from the bunker included jars of pickled tomatoes and mushrooms, plastic containers of cooking oil, dried pasta and a large band-saw.
Cult leader Kuznetsov did not join his followers in the bunker, saying God had different tasks for him. Officials had brought him to the scene to persuade his followers to come out.
sections: Society, Region News
regions: Central region