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Friday, May 7, 1999 Published at 14:07 GMT 15:07 UK

World: South Asia

Planetary panic leaves town deserted

The Alang breakers' yard is set to lose millions as workers flee

By Sanjiv Shrivastava in Bombay

Thousands of workers have fled India's largest ship-breaking yard, after rumours predicting large-scale destruction as a result of a peculiar planetary formation.

More than 60,000 workers have left the port town of Alang, in the belief that the town will be devastated by a cyclone and flooding on Saturday 8 May.

Leading Indian scientists and astrologers have dismissed the rumour as "nonsense".

Nobody quite knows how the rumour began.

According to one Indian newspaper, the doomsday prediction was published in the April issue of an astrological magazine.

Some others have pointed to a doomsday prediction in some ancient Indian religious texts.

Economic devastation

Whatever the origin of the rumour, it has already had a devastating impact on the economy of a flourishing port township in western India.

Work in the ship-breaking yard has come to a halt, resulting in the loss of nearly $35m in revenue.

Reclaiming scrap metal from ships is an important industry in India, which buys 40% of the world total of ships destined for scrapyards.

The Alang yard accounts for 95% of the ships that are broken up in the country.

All that has now come to a halt and authorities say by the time workers return to work, they would have lost nearly $60m.

Reports 'baseless'

Indian scientists have dismissed reports of any peculiar planetary formation as completely baseless.

The Indian Institute of Astrophysics says that even if the feared planetary alignment did occur, there would be no danger of any natural calamity.

The arrangement of seven heavenly bodies, including the earth, the sun and the moon, into a straight line, has occured no fewer than 14 times in the last 1,000 years.

According to scientists, there was no destruction on any of these occasions.

Leading astrologers have also described the predictions as a complete hoax.

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