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Romania Prepares for Eclipse

August 10, 1999

RAMNICU VALCEA, Romania (AP) _ In the rolling hills of central Romania, a soothsayer prepared Tuesday to chase out the demons of greed and scientists made final adjustments on their telescopes in expectation of the last solar eclipse of the millennium.

``We will ring bells and make loud noises to scare away the bad spirits,″ said Gheorghe Tugui, repeating an ancient Romanian legend about eclipses.

On Wednesday, the moon is expected to totally eclipse the sun in Romania. In Ramnicu Valcea, a city of 100,000 about 100 miles northwest of Bucharest, the eclipse will be seen for two minutes and 23 seconds _ the longest anywhere on Earth.

The eclipse will actually start in southern England at 11:10 a.m. (6:10 a.m. EDT). The moon’s shadow will then sweep eastward across northern France, Germany, Austria and Yugoslavia and Hungary before reaching Romania. Bulgaria is next followed by Turkey, Iraq, Iran, Pakistan and India before dying in the Bay of Bengal.

Dozens of scientists from the United States, Japan and Britain have descended on this nondescript industrial and mining city to view the natural phenomenon. On Tuesday, the group was busy making last-minute equipment checks, more concerned with their telescopes and lenses than evil spirits.

For Tugui, evil spirits are daily trade. He traveled hundreds of miles from the far north of Romania to sell ghoulish Dracula masks in Ramnicu Valcea during the eclipse.

At countryside festivals, the masks are thrown into a fire to cast out demons and atone for people’s sins. But with few tourists around and the masks going for a hefty $31 for Romanian pockets, trade was slow Tuesday in the searing midday sun.

Still, Tugui, 54, said his energy to rid the world of evil was unabated.

A few miles away in the Govora monastery run by Romanian Orthodox nuns, the sisters agreed that greed has driven a wedge between God and man, but dismissed the popular belief that the eclipse is a portent of doom.

``There is no use in worrying,″ said Mother Hurvima, 45. ``We are not interested in the eclipse. The end of the world will come when it comes.″

Watering red and white geraniums at the 17th century monastery, another nun said the eclipse was a scientific phenomenon. ``And science is from God,″ she declared firmly.

Scientists have other worries, such as Wednesday’s weather forecast. Skies were hazy Tuesday and forecasters warned that a bank of clouds was headed this way from Western Europe.

``I am very concerned about the weather,″ said Dr. Jay Pasachoff, director of the Hopkins Observatory at Williams College in Williamstown, Mass. ``All our experiments are completely dependent on the weather.″

Scientists will carry out four experiments on solar heating, the sun’s corona and the sun’s magnetic field, funded by NASA, the National Geographic Society and the U.S. National Science Foundation.

The scientists have set up computers, telescopes and digital cameras on the roof of a downtown hotel. They are worried that loud music from a rock concert planned during the eclipse could interfere with their calibrations.

``We’re beginning to wish we didn’t come here,″ Pasachoff said as loud music played nearby.

Reacting to such concerns, city officials promised to order a pause in the music for an hour Wednesday, coinciding with the time of the total eclipse.

For officials in the city, rarely visited by outsiders, the eclipse is a chance for their community’s day in the sun.

``The eclipse is a happy occasion for us not to be anonymous anymore,″ Mayor Sorin Zamfirescu said.

Hotels are jammed, and thousands of eclipse chasers are expected to arrive in recreational vehicles to view the eclipse.

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