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Volcano eruption in Russia lures risk-seeking tourists

ROUGH CUT - NO REPORTER NARRATION STORY: An erupting volcano in Russia's Far East has drawn crowds of thrill-seeking tourists, eager to see the clouds of ash, lava flows, and smoking rocks for themselves. Plosky Tolbachik, dormant for close to 40 years, has recently erupted, spewing clouds of ash up to 3 kilometers (1.8 miles) into the air, and spilling hot lava down its flanks. The volcano, which is located in Russia's Kamchatka region, erupted in an unusual way - the lava and ash flowed not out of its main crater, but from the volcano's sides. The molten rock from Plosky Tolbachik destroyed a nearby recreational base, and set fire to a forest within the volcano's close vicinity. According to Russian media reports, however, there were no casualties from the eruption. The erupting volcano, which would be considered a natural disaster by much of the world, has become a tourist attraction in this corner of Russia's Far East. Some tourists have approached the flowing lava to have their pictures taken on a background of molten rock and burning trees. Other tourist groups have organized outings with off-road vehicles delivering tourists to the base of fresh ash and rock deposits from the eruption. According to Sergei Alexeyev, the director of one tourist company, Plosky Tolbachik is a unique opportunity for people to see a volcano eruption first-hand. "Thirty-six years ago Kamchatka residents and other Russian - at that time Soviet - residents could observe such an eruption. On the territory of the Kamchatka Peninsula and in Russia in general there probably are no more such places where you can approach and directly look at the volcano crater where the lava is coming from, where the ash is erupting from. Yes, I think it is a unique thing," Alexeyev said. Tourists who made the trip to observe the eruption aftermath said they had no regrets about approaching the smoking volcano. "We have certainly not expected to see something like this, we saw from a distance how it was flowing, but this view now is no less impressive, we are simply shocked," tourist Igor Poluektov said. "It was worth doing it, it's marvelous, incredibly beautiful, you can't express it with words, you should just see it, feel it, touch it with your own hands, it's just great," another tourist, Maria Sokolova said. The tourists, who ignore warning signs, and the danger of shifting lava, and hot falling rocks, are willing to travel long distances and pay top prices to see the volcano. It is a ten-hour car ride from the nearest settlement to Plosky Tolbachik's slopes. The trip costs some 20,000 rubles (about 650 dollars) for locals, and up to about 30,000 rubles (close to 1000 dollars) for Moscow tourists. The last time Plosky Tolbachik erupted, it was active for 5 months, but it is unknown how long its current eruption will last.

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