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Christian leaders from across the spectrum widely dismissed the prophecy, and members of a local church, concerned that followers could slip into a deep depression come Sunday, were part of the crowd outside Family Radio International. They held signs declaring Mr. Camping a false prophet as motorists drove by.

“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, Calif.-based Calvary Bible Church, said earlier. “We’re not all about doom and gloom. Our message is a message of salvation and of hope.”

About a dozen people in a partying mood were also outside Family Radio International, creating a carnivallike atmosphere as they strolled in a variety costumes that portrayed monks, Jesus Christ and other figures.

“Am I relieved? Yeah. I’ve got a lot going on,” Peter Erwin, a student from Oakland, said with a hint of sarcasm. “Trying to get specific about the end of the world is crazy.”

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.

Marie Exley, who helped put up apocalypse-themed billboards in Israel, Jordan and Lebanon, said the money allowed the nonprofit to reach as many souls as possible.

She said she and her husband, mother and brother read the Bible and stayed close to the television news on Friday night awaiting word of an earthquake in the Southern Hemisphere. When that did not happen, she said fellow believers began reaching out to reassure one another of their faith.

“Some people were saying it was going to be an earthquake at that specific time in New Zealand and be a rolling judgment, but God is keeping us in our place and saying you may know the day but you don’t know the hour,” she said Saturday, speaking from Bozeman, Mont. “The day is not over, it’s just the morning, and we have to endure until the end.”

Still, the world wasn’t without its normal and sometimes dreadful disturbances Saturday. Among them: A tornado killed one person and damaged at least 20 homes in Kansas; a 6.1-magnitude quake stuck 600 miles off New Zealand with no reports of injury; a much smaller quake, magnitude 3.6, was felt my many people Saturday evening in the San Francisco Bay area; and Iceland’s most active volcano started erupting.

Mr. Camping, who lives few miles from his radio station, was not home late morning Saturday, and an additional attempt to seek comment from him late in the evening also was unsuccessful, with no one answering his front door.

Earlier in the day, Sheila Doan, 65, Mr. Camping’s next-door neighbor of 40 years, was outside gardening and said the worldwide spotlight on his May 21 forecast has attracted far more attention than the 1994 prediction.

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