Great balls of China to defend against 'apocalypse'

As people across the globe tremble in anticipation of next week's supposed Mayan-predicted apocalypse, one Chinese villager says he may have just what humanity needs: tsunami-proof survival pods.

Camouflage-clad former farmer and furniture maker Liu Qiyuan, 45, inspected his latest creation, a sphere several metres tall he calls "Noah's Ark", designed to withstand towering tsunamis and devastating earthquakes.

"The pod won't have any problems even if there are 1,000-metre-high waves... it's like a ping pong ball, its skin may be thin, but it can withstand a lot of pressure," he told AFP at his workshop in Qiantun, an hour from Beijing.

Liu's seven completed or under-construction pods, made using a fibreglass casing over a steel frame, have cost him 300,000 yuan ($48,000) each, he says, and are equipped with oxygen tanks, food and water supplies.

They also come with seat belts, essential for staying safe in storms, Liu said, strapping himself into position before his assistants shook the sphere vigorously from outside.

"The pods are designed to carry 14 people at a time, but it's possible for 30 people to survive inside for at least two months," he said.

Their insulation was such that "a person could live for four months in the pod at the North or South Pole without freezing, or even feeling slightly cold," he said.

One of the spheres even boasts the domestic comforts of a table, bed and flowery wallpaper.

Liu claims he came up with the design after watching the 2009 Hollywood disaster film "2012", which is inspired by the expiry on December 21 of the Mayan Long Count, a more than 5,000 year calendar used by the ancient Central American civilisation.

"If there really is some kind of apocalypse, then you could say I've made a contribution to the survival of humanity," Liu said.

Apocalyptic predictions have provoked widespread fears among believers, including in China, where two rural counties sold out of candles this month after a panic that three days of darkness would begin on Dec 21, the Xinhua news agency reported.

A businessman in China's eastern Zhejiang province has received 21 orders for bright yellow doomsday survival pods also sold as "Noah's Ark," for five million yuan each, the state run China Daily reported.

A man from China's northwestern province of Xinjiang told AFP that he has invested all his savings, approximately $160,000, to build a survival ark, fearing that his home will be engulfed in a doomsday flood.

Chinese authorities have sought to reassure citizens, with Beijing's police force publishing an online notice on Wednesday stating that "the so-called end of the world is a rumour", and advising citizens to use "scientific concepts".

Liu first conceived of spherical houses to withstand earthquakes, which occur frequently in China, but switched his focus to survival technology after the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami, which claimed nearly a quarter of a million lives.

Liu, who is married with a daughter, said many were sceptical when he first outlined his plans. But despite building them he has not sold any, and is worried about repaying loans he took from neighbours and friends to fund his workshop.

"I worked for many years without saving much money... I invested most of my money in the pods, because it's worth it, it's about saving lives" he said.

Keen to demonstrate the design's strength to AFP, he used a step-ladder to clamber inside one pod before an assistant reversed a pick-up truck into it, inflicting only a minor scratch on its surface.

Peeking out of the hatch, he grinned triumphantly.

"No problem," he said. "I didn't feel a thing."

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