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Taiwan 'prophet' starts disaster countdown

world Updated: May 11, 2011 08:00 IST

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A self-proclaimed Taiwanese "prophet" on Tuesday started the countdown for what he said would be a huge earthquake as workers moved tonnes of bottled water and other supplies to makeshift shelters.

"The final countdown has started," Wang Chao-hung, better known to his followers and the public as "Teacher Wang", said in the central Taiwanese town of Puli, home to about 80,000 people.

The 54-year-old said a 14-magnitude killer quake would strike the island at 10:42:37 on Wednesday morning (0242 GMT), killing at least one million people.

"It will have enormous consequences for most countries around the Pacific," Wang said.

Five days later, the island, together with many parts of the Pacific area, will be hit by a tsunami featuring 170-metre (560-foot) waves, he warned.

In expectation of these cataclysmic events, he has set up a shelter in Puli, converting more than 30 cargo containers into makeshift homes, stockpiling them with enough rice, bottled water and fuel to last for several weeks.

As of late Tuesday, it was unclear whether Wang had persuaded anyone to move into the containers, but the otherwise quiet town had attracted dozens of journalists, some of them reporting live from the area.

Wang has advised people to stay in cargo containers, which he says will be safer than regular buildings once the alleged catastrophe happens.

The prediction, which has caused widespread media attention over the past week, has prompted prosecutors to launch an investigation into an alleged fraud case.

Investigators are looking into the theory that Wang might be cooperating with businesses in the container industry, a charge he has flatly denied.

Fraud convictions carry a maximum five-year jail term while breaking the law on social order is punished by a fine of up to Tw$30,000 ($1,000), prosecutors say.

A weather bureau spokesman has said that "issuing unauthorised forecasts on earthquakes is punishable by a fine" of up to Tw$1 million ($33,000).