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A cave in is reported to have occurred at the underground
A cave in is reported to have occurred at the underground shelter in central Russia where members of a doomsday sect have been holed up since November.

Thirty-five members of the sect went underground in the Penza Region to wait for the end of the world, which they say will come in May or June. Two members of the sect have since reportedly died, their bodies apparently buried in the shelter. Another 24 members, including four children, left the dugout just over a month ago after most of the roof collapsed following heavy rain.

At 11:00 a.m. local time (07:00 GMT) on Thursday a policeman standing watch at the dugout told journalists that a cave in had taken place, adding that rescue workers were on their way to the scene.

This is not the first cave in to hit the shelter. The last occurred on April 23 as a result of heavy rain and partially destroyed the entrance to the dugout.

The hard-line sect members have said that they will come to the surface after a religious holiday in mid-June. They had earlier announced that they would quit the shelter on April 27 (Orthodox Easter) or during Russia's May 1-9 national holidays.

Despite one member of the sect claiming that the group is an offshoot of the Jehovah's Witnesses, the sect has generally been considered part of a wave of extreme Russian Orthodoxy in Russia and some former Soviet republics. Adherents of this radical form of Christianity refuse to own passports, as they "contain the number of the Beast", and will not handle money or consume products packaged in containers bearing 'Satanic' barcodes.

Russia has seen a great number of sects throughout its history. One of the most famous of these was the Skoptsy, who castrated themselves to avoid sexual temptation and sin. The sect was first reported in the 18th century and is known to have still existed in the 1920s.

Another notorious sect was the Khlysty, an offshoot of the Russian Orthodox Church. The Khlysty believed that the way to salvation lay through the repentance of sins. The greater the sin, the greater the repentance, the Khlysty reasoned, and following this logic they rejected conventional doctrines of 'right and wrong', indulging in sins that they could later confess to, being in this way 'pleasing to God.' Grigory Rasputin, the mysterious monk who had a malign influence on the Tsar and the Tsarina prior to the 1917 Russian Revolution, is believed to have had links with the group, which was active from the 17th century to the early 20th.

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