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Russians plan to market 'Meteor Disneyland'

| Saturday, March 2, 2013, 6:30 p.m.

MOSCOW — The last time a disaster with global impact struck Chelyabinsk, officials covered it up for three decades. This time, they're marketing it to the world.

The meteor explosion over this former secret Soviet nuclear hub two weeks ago was recorded by scores of dashboard cameras and viewed by millions of people, providing a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to attract international tourists and their money to the Russian province on the Asian edge of the Ural Mountains.

“Space sent us a gift, and we need to make use of it,” Natalia Gritsay, head of the region's tourism department, said while en route to Lake Chebarkul, where officials gathered on Tuesday to map a strategy for economic development. “We need our own Eiffel Tower or Statue of Liberty.”

Proposals proffered at the Chebarkul powwow ranged from holding an annual “cosmic music and fireworks festival” to erecting a “floating beacon-tipped pyramid” atop the lake.

One official pitched a “Meteor Disneyland” to re-create the events of Feb. 15, while another pressed for building a “Cosmic Water Park.”

Chebarkul Mayor Andrei Orlov plans to build a diving center at the lake when the ice melts so tourists can search for meteorites in the 10 feet of mud that lie 36 feet below the surface.

“The first thing we need here are road signs in Russian and English, and cops who can say ‘Hello' and ‘OK' to foreigners,” Orlov said. “We don't want to be like the pyramids near Cairo, where tourists come for an hour, shout, ‘Aladdin, come out,' and leave.”

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