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Disaster 'Tourists' Flock To Pa. County

Ronald and Joyce McDonald had to see the rescue shaft where nine men recently emerged from a flooded coal mine -- it was an affirmation of what they considered to be a miracle.

The McDonalds were in the area for a college baseball tournament but spent Tuesday afternoon visiting the mine and the temporary memorial for United Flight 93, which crashed on Sept. 11 in a field about 10 miles away. They snapped photos and picked up a souvenir rock and a baseball cap from a country store.

"What is the chance for two things to happen in such a short time, so close, really in the middle of nowhere?" Joyce McDonald, 66, of New Orleans said.

The McDonalds are among hundreds of people flocking to the sites of both disasters in Pennsylvania's Somerset County, creating an unusual tourist attraction out of a county, about 80 miles southeast of Pittsburgh, whose economy is dominated by agriculture and skiing.

Reservations are up at hotels, and businesses are reporting increased sales from carloads of visitors trying to catch a glimpse of the events that happened within a few miles of one another.

Since Sept. 11, hundreds of visitors a day have been packing the gravel patch overlooking the field where the jetliner crashed. Federal investigators believe some of the 40 passengers who died overpowered four hijackers and forced the crash before the plane could be aimed at a target in Washington, D.C.

Now many tourists are allotting time for a snapshot of the Quecreek Mine, where nine men managed to survive for more than three days underground after digging into an abandoned, flooded mine.

"It's kind of funny, if (the mine rescue) would have ended badly, we would have probably gone under," state Rep. Gary Haluska who helps run another nearby tourist coal mine. "But since it was a positive rescue, people are curious about the working conditions (the miners) were in."

Tom Schipper, 47, who came from Hudsonville, Michigan, with his wife and children, said the trip will teach his children that although "some lives are taken, and some are rescued, the Lord's in control of all things for good."

September reservation rates at the 152-room Ramada Inn in Somerset have risen from around 50 percent before the terrorist attacks to nearly 80 percent, said hotel general manager Lee Moran.

Rick King, owner of Ida's Store in Shanksville, says business has been up as much as 15 percent since September, but he's not celebrating.

"These are some things we didn't wish to happen just to draw tourists," he said.

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