Rapture preparedness: Contingency plans are in place

Among the historic graves at Laurel Hill Cemetery is CEO Pete Hoskins. But his main concern is for left-behind animals, including those at the zoo, which he ran for years. "Last time," he noted, "they got a free ark ride."
Among the historic graves at Laurel Hill Cemetery is CEO Pete Hoskins. But his main concern is for left-behind animals, including those at the zoo, which he ran for years. "Last time," he noted, "they got a free ark ride." (LAURENCE KESTERSON / Staff Photographer)
Posted: May 21, 2011

As you probably know by now, this promises to be a hell of a day.

Perhaps you've read the newspaper reports or seen the billboards along I-95; or clicked on the CDC's posting, "Preparedness 101: Zombie Apocalypse"; or tuned into Camden's 106.9 FM, one of Family Radio's 150 stations that have been broadcasting warnings for months that the End of Days will occur ... today.

Based on revised, painstaking readings of the Bible, and using algorithms he says are derived from God's own word, Harold Camping, 89, an evangelist from Oakland, Calif., has determined that Armageddon will begin at 6 p.m. Philadelphia time.

The Rapture, Camping says, will manifest itself as a cataclysmic earthquake that will open all graves and create mass hysteria. True believers will ascend to heaven, while everyone else will suffer five months of unfathomable misery until God destroys the world Oct. 21.

New Zealand will be struck first, Camping predicts. The 6.3-level quake that destroyed much of Christchurch in February was but a clearing of the throat, he says, compared with the wrath of the Almighty about to hit with full force.

In anticipation of property destruction; fires; flooding; disruption of essential services such as water, electricity, and cellphones; and the depletion of blood supplies, the American Red Cross Southeastern Pennsylvania Chapter remains sanguine.

"Hmmm," Dave Schrader, the agency's spokesman, said fewer than 36 hours before the moment of truth.

As always, he said, the Red Cross is prepared for all disasters, "earthquakes, terrorist attacks, nuclear meltdowns." No formal contingency, though, for the end of the world.

Acknowledging that tomb openings disgorging putrefied corpses could pose a health hazard, he said Red Cross capabilities were limited. "I can't comment on the dead walking the Earth. I don't think we have plans for that either."

At the Streets Department, spokeswoman June Cantor said she would look into whether additional trucks had been put on alert to deal with the rubble. "Anything else?" she asked.

Minutes later, she called back to say that all Rapture inquiries were being referred to the Mayor's Office. Before transferring the call, however, she said, "I've seen the billboards, but thought it was an ad for a book coming out on the 21st." Confused, perhaps, by ads for Murder at the Mikvah.

As the reality dawned on her, Cantor fretted. "My granddaughter's first birthday party is Sunday. I hope nothing happens to disrupt that. My daughter's been planning it for a long time."

At City Hall, spokesman Mark McDonald said Mayor Nutter had a full day planned for Saturday, both leading up to and after H-hour.

"He'll be at an Asian-heritage festival between 2 and 3 p.m., then he has a private meeting shortly before 6." That meeting "is not religiously related."

As chosen souls begin to soar, air traffic controllers will face unprecedented challenges. "I have heard the predictions," said Victoria Lupica, spokeswoman for Philadelphia International Airport. "But we're planning on running normal operations."

The airport's decision is prudent, she said, since the prospect of doomsday remains hypothetical. "The way we operate normally under FAA guidance is that if a situation would arise, we'll respond accordingly."

Numerous postings on Twitter, Facebook, and various websites are advising those who expect to be saved to position themselves with a clear shot to open sky, to avoid any hazardous obstruction. A final family drive in a convertible with the top down, huddling prayerfully in homes with thatched roofs or open skylights, or gathering for last suppers at sidewalk caf├ęs are among the preferred spots to await take-off.

The left-behind might as well live it up. Among the doomed, no doubt, will be Yankees fans, Maxim subscribers, rapacious personal-injury lawyers, doctors who don't accept Medicare, slipshod contractors, people who park in the spaces their neighbors dig out on snowy days. No word on souls recently buried at sea.

Philadelphia's powerful are maintaining composure, as if there is no "no tomorrow." Liam O'Keefe of the city's Office of Emergency Management welcomed the opportunity for citizens to prepare for the worst.

The office, he said, "doesn't reasonably anticipate any catastrophic impact on the city." Nevertheless, "people need to prepare for the legitimate hazards and threats that we face every day ... including severe weather, terrorism, industrial accidents, infrastructure failures, and regular household fires."

He urged people to visit www.phila.gov/ready, which explains how to build a family emergency plan.

At Laurel Hill Cemetery, president and CEO Pete Hoskins said he had no plans to deal with a mass exodus of souls. "If people walk out of the graves, that's kind of an ethereal matter. I don't know if we can do much about it. It's beyond our powers."

Some of the cemetery's inhabitants would make for good, if temporary, company. "But there are a few bad apples that would make me nervous." That said, he declined to name them. "It's wrong to speak ill of the dead."

His greatest concern is for the world's animals, including those at the zoo, which Hoskins ran for many years.

"Last time," he noted, "they got a free ark ride."

Most signs point to heaven for all dogs and other innocent nonhumans. Still, many pet owners were taking no chances.

Humane organizations like After the Rapture Pet Care and Eternal Earth-Bound Pets are offering help. For fees from $10 to $135, they will arrange foster care for pets left behind.

EEBP promises to send a bona fide non-Christian who has sinned but is kind to animals to retrieve pets within 24 hours after the owner's ascent and to care for them lovingly for up to 10 years.

Or the end of the world. Whichever comes first.

National preparations remain secret. Asked what was being done to cope with the hoary aftermath, a Department of Homeland Security spokesman said, "Off the record, are you kidding me?"

In Trenton on Friday, state Senate Democrats announced the bills under review next week. The news release ended on a cautionary note: "Of course, should the Rapture occur on Saturday, the session would be canceled."

Meanwhile, the state's police have organized a youth gathering in a heretofore peaceful Shore town.

"I can't think of a better way of closing out existence on Earth than the 2011 Camporee," said Sgt. Stephen Jones. "We will be giving out merit badges, there will be demonstrations from the SWAT team and the National Guard, so the kids will be having fun when things come to a close."

In contrast, Philadelphia police are playing it totally cool.

A spokesman said simply, "Call us on Monday."


Contact staff writer Melissa Dribben at 215-854-2590 or mdribben@phillynews.com.

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