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Thousands Dash in Spanish Bull Run

July 7, 1999

PAMPLONA, Spain (AP) _ As a rocket blast signaled the release of the bulls, thousands of red-and-white-clad runners dashed in terror through narrow, cobblestone streets Wednesday in the opening bull run of the San Fermin Fiesta.

Six bulls, guided by a herd of steers, stampeded about half a mile from a corral to the bullring, where they faced certain death by matadors in afternoon bullfights.

Many runners fell and were bruised by other runners or the animals, but no one was seriously injured.

The running of the bulls, popularized by Ernest Hemingway’s 1926 novel ``The Sun Also Rises,″ is the highlight of the 8 1/2-day party that began Tuesday and ends in the wee hours of July 14.

Tens of thousands of tourists have nearly doubled the northern city’s usual population of 180,000.

The race began at 8 a.m. sharp with the firing of the first of three rockets. A second rocket indicated all the bulls had left the Santo Domingo corrals and were stampeding down the blockaded streets to the bullring.

Wednesday’s run lasted only three minutes and 10 seconds, and a third rocket announced all the beasts had arrived and been penned up.

``I was running next to a big brown steer. I could have reached out and touched it. But I didn’t,″ said Shawn Wilson, 34, of Miami, who was nursing a cut on his cheek and a swollen eyebrow. Wilson was injured in a fall when he slowed down to get next to a bull and was pushed from behind by other runners. It was his second year among the bulls.

It was the fourth year for Bob Lombardo, 46, of Glenmoore, Penn. Both said they’d do it again Thursday.

``It’s a big emotional rush,″ Lombardo said. ``A feeling of chaos and excitement.″

Lombardo said reading Hemingway’s novel had given him the idea to come to the festival.

Pamplona paid tribute this year to the 100th anniversary of Hemingway’s birth, and an exposition of his letters and other personal papers was displayed in a local gallery.

Jose Gascue Beztiz, 83, has been watching the runs from his second floor balcony for 72 years. He remembers seeing Hemingway, who he described as ``a good drinker,″ on one of his many visits.

The writer last ate and drank with the people of Pamplona in 1959, only two years before his suicide in Idaho in 1961.

During Wednesday’s run, the bulls were slow starting from the corral, but once underway ran in a tight pack down the street. At one point, a steer slammed into a youth who had fallen and was trying to get back up just as the herd arrived. Several animals slipped and fell.

One bull’s horns snagged another youth’s shirt, lifted him off his feet and slammed him against a wall, where he fell. He was trampled by the herd and other runners, but escaped serious injury.

Huge crowds in recent years have made the runs more dangerous. Since record keeping began in 1924, 13 runners have been killed and more than 200 injured by the bulls. The last fatality was an American in 1995, the first death since 1980.

As the stampede thundered through Pamplona, city crews hosed and swept other streets and plazas, collecting huge piles of broken bottles and trash left after all-night partying.

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