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Holiday Travel Is Full of Risks

September 1, 2000

Travel this Labor Day weekend is filled with risks. Temperatures in the Southwest are broiling. Sharks have attacked swimmers in the Gulf of Mexico. Tires are exploding, gas prices are steep and the airlines are packed and backed up.

Despite all this, millions of Americans are hitting the road for summer’s last holiday.

The American Automobile Association estimates 33.7 million people will travel over the three-day weekend, up 5 percent from last year. Most are traveling by car even though gasoline prices are up an average of 23 cents per gallon of regular unleaded since last Sept. 1, statistics show.

Even though Midwesterners have been hit hardest by the rise in gas prices, they will be the second-largest group of Americans vacationing this weekend, said AAA spokeswomn Janie Graziani. Westerners will be the top travelers.

``That’s a little surprising, because their gas prices really went up,″ she said. ``But with the economy being as strong as it is, when people decide they want to go somewhere for the long holiday weekend they go regardless of what it costs them.″

The airline industry, which has been dealing with big crowds all summer, didn’t expect that to change over the holiday weekend.

An airline trade association official said travelers won’t have to worry about flights being canceled because of pilot slowdowns. That issue has been resolved, said Diana Cronan of Air Transport Association in Washington D.C.

But other dangers lurk for travelers.

On Wednesday, a shark fatally attacked a swimmer after he jumped off his dock and into the Intracoastal Waterway near St. Pete Beach on the Gulf Of Mexico. It was the 22nd shark attack in Florida waters this year.

Along the Atlantic Ocean, SeaWorld animal care specialists were treating a bottlenose dolphin found suffering from shark bite wounds up to 18 inches wide in the Indian River near Vero Beach.

Still, vacationers like Stephen and Rachel Sinclair of Oxford, England, and their three children didn’t seem timid about wading into the Gulf of Mexico on Thursday, saying there is a very small chance of being bitten by sharks.

Bjorn Ranheim and his girlfriend Anca Gavris were on the road trying to beat the holiday traffic Friday afternoon. The couple, moving from Cleveland, Ohio, to Miami to start new jobs, had two bikes strapped to the top of their Volvo and were pulling a U-Haul trailer.

``We’re trying to get down before the weekend rush,″ Ranheim said. ``It’s been pretty good, so far.″

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