Chileans react to the end of the world as we know it

The Santiago Times/December 20, 2012

Chileans were more than three times as likely to lose sleep over the supposed apocalypse. though. A survey, conducted by Chilean site, found 35 percent harbored such fears.

The survey of 2,000 Chileans also found that 24 percent were planning to ask for the day off of work Dec. 21. Yet another 33 percent said they would request an advance on their salary, although it is unclear how they planned to spend their bonus in the wake of the botched day of reckoning.

Indeed, Chileans' reaction to "doomsday" has been gauged in the last week by supermarkets that reported they were struggling to meet the demand for bottled water and matches, and hardware shops that reportedly witnessed a dramatic spike in flashlight sales. Chile, a country rich in mystical lore and superstitious customs, was quietly preparing for the worst.

Bizarrely, Chilean website Betting Pro reported dozens of bets placed on what cataclysmic disaster would kill off humanity on the 21st.

"We had dozens of people bet on the end of the world," a spokesperson for the company told 24horas earlier this week. "Most of them only wanted the ticket as a memento for their friends, but there are one or two that were really convinced that the worst could happen."

"We have not taken bets of this nature since the last great solar eclipse," he said.

Reactions to the prophecy signify a troubling trend of misinformation in Chile, said Carlos Livacic, sociologist at the University of San Sebastian. He said he fears that many fail to consider the reliability of their sources, deeming scientists and television personalities equally credible.

"The most disturbing thing you have to note is what this means for the education of our people because the things we are talking about today correspond to a worldview independent of age," Livacic told The Santiago Times. "Among children and adults, this should not be more than a story or a joke and we should not have this level of expectations."

"As a (Latin American) society, we depend on the shelter of religion tremendously, and believe very deeply that which they say is or will happen," he added.

Recent events have reinforced apocalyptic superstitions, Livacic said. In 2010, an 8.8-magnitude earthquake shook the confidence of Chile's younger generation, which had not seen such a large-scale disaster.

While some Chileans placed bets or went as far as to buy extra bottled water, others took the doomsday superstitions to a life-threatening level of seriousness.

The police prevented what is believed to have been a mass suicide attempt by 12 adults in a cult in Peñaflor, a suburb of Santiago, Thursday morning.

Officers searched the property for poisonous chemicals after the mother of one of the sect members told police about concern for her daughter. Although no chemicals or weapons were found on site, cult leader and philosophy lecturer Beverly Guzman Cowell, 44, was taken for psychiatric testing at Félix Bulnes Hospital.

Kalynne Dakin contributed to this report.

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