Cancellations, delays ripple across U.S. in government shutdown

Wed Oct 2, 2013 2:17pm EDT

* Tourists revise vacations as monuments, parks close

* Weddings, daycare, research all disrupted in shutdown

By John Whitesides and Susan Heavey

WASHINGTON, Oct 2 (Reuters) - A string of cancellations and delays caused by the federal government shutdown rippled across the United States on Wednesday, ruining dream vacations, upending carefully laid wedding plans and complicating the lives of millions of people.

From blood drives to daycare programs, musical performances to research projects, the disruptions caused by the political stalemate in Washington sparked growing frustrations and left people scrambling to make alternative plans.

Scores of weddings planned at national parks and monuments around the country were moved or postponed, and vacationers hustled to change their itineraries after finding iconic sites from the Statue of Liberty to the Lincoln Memorial closed.

"We're really disappointed. We spent a lot of days waiting for tickets so we just want to go inside the statue," said Gaelle Masse, a tourist from Paris who was startled to discover the Statue of Liberty was closed.

Thousands of tourists with prepaid tickets to visit Alcatraz Island, the famed prison site in San Francisco Bay, were unable to tour the former penitentiary.

In Boston, Italian tourist Federico Paliero and his girlfriend Claudia Costato peered through a closed metal gate to catch a glimpse of the USS Constitution, a wooden, three-masted U.S. Navy ship from the 18th century docked in Boston Harbor that serves as one of the city's major attractions.

Normally buzzing with tourists, the site was nearly abandoned on Wednesday, except for a handful of people looking lost and dismayed as they gawked at a sign explaining the closure.

"Italy is not the only state with money problems," Paliero said, rubbing his thumb and forefingers together.

At Great Smoky Mountains National Park in Tennessee, park staff said nearly 30 weddings scheduled for the next two weeks are threatened by the shutdown, which also sent hundreds of campers packing.

'WORRIED ABOUT RAIN'

Two dozen weddings planned at monuments on the Washington mall in October also were threatened, a park service spokeswoman said.

"I wasn't worried about the government shutting down. I was worried about rain," said bride-to-be MaiLien Le, who was planning to walk down the aisle at the Jefferson Memorial on Saturday.

Having to possibly change venues just days before her wedding is "really upsetting," she said on NBC's "Today" show.

In northern Virginia, officials canceled blood drives that would have provided transfusions for up to 900 area patients.

The Library of Congress in Washington closed its doors, disrupting research projects and canceling a musical performance by Randy Newman.

About one-fifth of the classes at the Naval Academy in Annapolis, Maryland, were scrapped, and science laboratories at the school were shut down as furloughs for civilian Defense Department employees took hold.

The Smithsonian, which shuttered all of its museums and the National Zoo, also had to close its early childhood center even though many parents had already paid between $300 and $400 in tuition for the week, according to local radio station WTOP.

"When you have to sit down and explain to a 5-year-old why he can't go to school, it's a difficult conversation," Virginia resident Brian Katz, whose two children attend the Smithsonian Early Enrichment Center housed in the Natural History Museum, told a local Fox television station.

Juleon Rabbani, 28, got a call from the National Park Service informing him that his scientific research in national parks would be shut down for now, compounding funding issues he was already facing.

"I wanted to graduate in the fall of 2014, but with my funding being held up and since my research sites are national parks, it will be well into 2015 before I am done," he said. "The funding I need won't come through, and who knows how long this shutdown will be."

Some Washington businesses faced growing uncertainty as the shutdown continued, keeping government events away from hotels and federal workers out of their usual restaurants.

David Hill, general manager for two area hotels, said two dozen events at the hotels have been canceled in the coming weeks, including one large government group that triggered a $45,000 loss.

"What I've told my team is: for us, it's business as usual ... but everything in the future is in limbo," said Hill, who manages the Phoenix Park Hotel just blocks from the U.S. Capitol and the Four Points by Sheraton near the White House.

Grain traders in Chicago were preparing to cope without weekly U.S. Department of Agriculture data on export sales typically released on Thursdays. The data, covering sales the previous week, can roil prices for crops like corn and wheat if demand is unexpectedly strong or weak.

"For now, we'll go with our best guesses," said Sterling Smith, futures specialist for Citigroup.

Traders and analysts were frustrated that USDA websites went dark as a result of the federal shutdown. They mine the sites for data on crop supplies and demand to project price trends.

Terry Reilly, analyst for Futures International, said he could not complete presentations on the grain markets for clients because USDA data was unavailable.

"It makes no sense to me that they would shut down their websites," he said.

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