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Tourist interest in Geyser Valley peaks following mudslides

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In an ironic twist to a sad story, public interest in Kamchatka's Geyser Valley, hit by a pair of devastating mudflows Sunday, has suddenly spiked, a local tour agency representative said Friday.
PETROPAVLOVSK-KAMCHATSKY, June 8 (RIA Novosti) - In an ironic twist to a sad story, public interest in Kamchatka's Geyser Valley, hit by a pair of devastating mudflows Sunday, has suddenly spiked, a local tour agency representative said Friday.

Inquiries regarding visits to the geyser field have risen sharply. "People, especially foreigners, want to see the result of the natural disaster with their own eyes, the representative said.

Two mudslides June 3 buried nearly two-thirds of the valley, which features some 200 thermal pools and 90 erupting geysers covering an area of 2.5 square miles on the Kamchatka Peninsula, in Russia's Far East.

A spokesman for the Natural Resources Ministry said Thursday that some 30 geysers had survived intact, 10 had been irretrievably lost and the rest were underwater and expected to recover.

Scores of scientists, experts and journalists have been converging on the site since the disaster, the head of the local tourism board said.

"The Geyser Valley is officially closed to tourists at the moment," Tamara Tutushkina said. "We have addressed a request to the local emergencies commission to open it back up, and we expect an answer tomorrow."

Since the site was opened to the public in 1991, about 3,000 visitors a year have been granted access to the geyser field, one of only five in the world where the spectacular eruptions of steam and boiling water can be observed.

Despite its relative inaccessibility, there have always been more than enough people willing to pay up to $600 for a four-hour visit.

On Thursday, the deputy head of Russia's environmental protection agency, Oleg Mitvol, said Russia would push to have the valley classified as an endangered world heritage site at the next general session of UNESCO, scheduled to begin July 2 in New Zealand.

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