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Eclipse Watchers Avoid Cornwall

August 10, 1999

MOUSEHOLE, England (AP) _ Festivals and flights have been canceled and many guesthouses and hotels still have vacancies on what was supposed to be the hottest, hippest week of the year.

Not even half of the million people expected in Cornwall for Wednesday’s total eclipse of the sun have shown up so far _ put off by forecasts of cloudy weather, fears of overcrowding and, in some places, grossly inflated prices.

Cornwall, a county at the southwestern tip of Britain, will have the country’s best view of the eclipse.

``The eclipse has cast a very long shadow over the tourist season,″ said Bill Treloar, co-owner of the Old Coastguard Inn overlooking Mousehole’s small port, where colorful fishing boats jostle in a gusting wind.

Although he is almost fully booked and has not raised his prices, his chic, clifftop establishment has not received the usual summer rush of tourists, and he expects an average season. ``I think the people who have put up prices have reaped the reward. But it has also affected the rest of us,″ he said.

Tourist authorities had predicted between 500,000 and 1.5 million visitors and the government warned that roads could become clogged and services overstretched. Weather forecasters added to the gloom; some say only 5 percent to 10 percent of Cornwall will have clear skies Wednesday.

Those who booked early found houses costing up at $16,000 a week; even a tiny cottage cost $1,900.

With less than two days to go, the influx of visitors continues, and tourist officials remain optimistic.

But some places still carry signs advertising vacancies. Keith Richards, owner of the small Con Amore guesthouse in Penzance, near Mousehole (pronounced MOW-zul), said several Dutch and English tourists canceled at the last minute, citing the hype and bad publicity.

Several smaller music festivals were called off because of lack of interest and a private company on Friday pulled out of a deal to run up to 30 chartered flights for sightseers from a Royal Air Force base in Cornwall, after poor bookings.

Paul Lowe, spokesman for the Total Eclipse Festival, near Plymouth in neighboring Devon county, said only 5,000 people have converged on a site built for 20,000 _ although he was hoping for a last-minute rush.

Patrick Lobb, who has set up a campsite for 2,000 people on his farm near Bodmin, has just 14 pitches occupied. ``If I cover my advertising expenses I’ll be pleased,″ he said.

But elsewhere, excitement was building for the moment when the moon passes between the sun and the Earth, turning day to night. From Britain, the moon’s shadow will rush at 1,522 mph to France, Germany, Austria, Hungary and Romania, then sweep across Turkey, Iran, Iraq and Pakistan, before dying over India. It will last longest over Romania, at 2 minutes, 23 seconds.

Scientists hope to learn more about the corona, the radiant halo of superheated gas that surrounds the sun, and about earth’s atmosphere.

In Noyon, northern France, tourism officials were confidant they would get 60,000 guests from all over the world. ``People are very excited,″ said the director of the Office of Tourism, Virginie van Hove.

Stuttgart, one of the best vantage points in Germany, is on target for 500,000 visitors, and streets are already lined with stands selling eclipse T-shirts, baseball caps and coffee mugs.

At Germany’s Olympic Stadium in Munich, revelers will dance at a music festival while a video screen shows pictures of the eclipse filmed by ARD television.

Governments have warned that looking directly at the sun can cause blindness. Across Germany and Italy, optical stores have run out of protective glasses.

Munich optician Joern Krone said he has sold about 2,000 pairs at $2.20 each, and now ``people are panicking and want to ... reserve them.″

Turkish authorities hope the eclipse will boost tourism revenues hurt by Kurdish rebel attacks.

Around the western Indian town of Bhuj, 2,000 reserve police were on standby to deter criminals.

``There are scientists with expensive equipment and so we want to prevent theft and any sort of unpleasantness,″ police chief A.K. Singh said.

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