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Haitians Fear Upcoming Eclipse

February 18, 1998

PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti (AP) _ Fear of blindness during a solar eclipse next week has produced panic in Haiti, with school principals telling students to stay home and businesses promising workers the day off.

``Of course I’m scared. Everybody’s scared,″ said Ayouba Segal, 13, whose private Union School is the only school in Port-au-Prince that won’t close for the two-hour partial eclipse on Feb. 26.

In January, radio reports began warning Haitians about the risks of looking at the sun with unprotected eyes. Since then, the cautionary words of meteorologists have given way to outrageous rumors.

``The weatherman said we should stay in bed all day, otherwise we would go blind or crazy,″ said Sulfane Elius, 26, a suburban housekeeper.

Officials in Cayes-Jacmel, a small town on the southern coast, distributed leaflets informing residents that ``the eyes of anyone who looks at the sun (during the eclipse) will burst.″ It said 15,000 people in India had suffered such a fate.

Public transport is expected to grind to a halt, and rumors are circulating that the government will declare Feb. 26 a national holiday.

Haiti will experience a partial eclipse of the sun by the moon. A total eclipse will occur in the Galapagos Islands, northern Venezuela and Colombia and the Caribbean islands of Aruba, Curacao, Bonaire, Montserrat, Antigua and Guadeloupe.

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