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A replica of Noah's Ark!

The Dutch is pouring his time and energy into recreating a ready-to-sail replica of the ship.

india Updated: Apr 11, 2006 14:55 IST

It seems appropriate that Johan Huibers is building a modern version of Noah's Ark in the Netherlands, where two-thirds of the land would be under water were it not for dikes and levees holding back the North Sea.

The 47-year-old Christian is pouring his time and energy into recreating a ready-to-sail replica of the ship mentioned in the Bible.

However, he is counting not on 40 days and 40 nights of rain, but on floods of children, and their parents with cash in their wallets, to visit the ship and learn about the Christian faith.

Huibers, who said the idea of buil ding the huge vessel came to him in a dream 30 years ago, lamented that children were no longer being taught the story of Noah's Ark.

In the Bible's book of Genesis, God, seeing that the "wickedness of man was great in the earth" commanded Noah to build an ark and stock it with pairs of animals so that Noah and his family would survive a flood sent by God to destroy mankind.

"We will tell that story, we will fill a place that is empty," said Huibers, who is painstakingly building the modern version of the Ark out of cedar and pine.

"Make yourself an ark of gopher wood (possibly cypress); make rooms in the ark, and cover it inside and out with pitch," God instructs Noah in the Bible. "This is how you are to make it: the length of the ark 300 cubits, its breadth 50 cubits, and its height 30 cubits."

Given that a cubit is the distance between the elbow and the fingers, modern scholars say the biblical ark would have had half the capacity of the Titanic, which sank off Canada on its maiden voyage in 1912 with the loss of more than 1,500 lives.

Huiber's ark is more modest, about a fifth of the size of the biblical vessel and actually a 50-metre long, 13-metre high structure built on top of a steel barge, although it has the familiar shape and side door of the ark as depicted in many biblical illustrations.

Huibers began building the ship, docked at a small harbour 50 km north of Amsterdam, three months ago with help from friends and his 17-year-old son and expects to spend 1 million euros (1.2 million dollars) on it, mainly from bank loans.

FLOATING ZOO

Huiber's plan is to launch the ark in September and sail it through the canals and waterways that crisscross the Netherlands so that visitors can see it in their own towns.

After entering the ark's cavernous interior through the side door, children can see animals housed in stables and a petting zoo, play in a separate petting zoo and witness a re-enactment of the flood in a diorama to be created in the ship's hull.

For the adults there will be a restaurant and, naturally, a gift shop.

The story of Noah's Ark continues to capture the imagination of the faithful and adventurous, with expeditions every few years to try to find traces of the ark on Mount Ararat, where the Bible said it came to rest, or evidence of a great flood.

In 2001, US geologist Robert Ballard, who discovered the the wreck of the Titanic at the bottom of the Atlantic in 1985, headed a joint US-Bulgarian expedition which combed the Black Sea for traces of a society living there before the Great Flood.

There was talk at the time that Bulgarian entrepreneurs wanted to build a replica of Noah's Ark to lure tourists.

Asked if he feared another biblical flood, Huibers said he expected more like the one that ravaged New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina but noted that in the Bible, God promised Noah never to send another flood to destroy mankind.

"I want to tell people that there is a God and that he is there," Huibers said.