State holds its breath as Eclipse Madness sets in
Overwhelmed cell phone services.
Empty store shelves.
Gas stations' tanks run dry.
Possible power outages.
A potential for wildfires.
Welcome to Eclipse 2017. Local governments, state officials, civic and business groups are all holding their collective breath, preparing for the worst as thousands of people flock to Oregon's path of totality for Monday's eclipse.
"All of the various agencies, including us here at AAA Oregon/Idaho, are gearing up for the worst," said Marie Dodds, spokeswoman for AAA Oregon/Idaho. "We are gearing up for traffic gridlock, similar to what we'd experience during a winter weather event."
"The chance to witness a total solar eclipse is a rare and special opportunity, and Oregon is thrilled to host hundreds of thousands of curious sky-gazers who will gather across the state," Gov. Kate Brown told reporters Tuesday during a press conference laying out state and regional emergency plans. "It's important for each of us to plan ahead, arrive at viewing sites early and stocked with basic supplies, and be mindful of current wildfire conditions. Oregonians and visitors should also know that state agencies, along with our local, tribal, and federal partners, have extensively planned and are well-coordinated to help make the 2017 total solar eclipse a safe and memorable event."
It's the first time since 1979 that Oregon has been in the bullseye of a total eclipse.
Oregon officials say nearly 1 million people could visit the state to see the eclipse's totality when the moon crosses in front of the sun about mid-morning Aug. 21. That's really just an estimate, said Cory Grogan, a public information officer for the state Office of Emergency Management, based mostly on reservations for hotels, motels and camp sites.
According to NASA, the eclipse will be visible first in Lincoln City at about 9:05 a.m., with the totality sweeping in at about 10:16 a.m. The eclipse will stretch across the mid-Willamette Valley, into Central Oregon and then to 14 states before ending near Charleston, South Carolina, at about two and half hours later.
Gov. Brown said about 150 Oregon Air and Army National Guard members and five Army National Guard aircraft will be deployed across the state during the weekend to help cities and counties with eclipse-related problems. That includes helping manage traffic and aiding first responders with medical evacuation and search-and-rescue services.
Oregon State University's Extension Service said the eclipse would be a good time to stock up on water, food, fuel, and, oh yeah, patience.
"The number of people expected in Oregon for the Aug. 21 eclipse, especially in the path of totality, will really stretch our resources and infrastructures," said Glenda Hyde, an extension service family and community health educator. "There could be double or triple the population in some areas."
Red Cross urges preparedness
The American Red Cross is urging people to assemble emergency preparedness kits with bottled water, blankets, first aid supplies and other essential items, for their cars and homes. The group is coordinating with local emergency agencies along the eclipse viewing path to help ensure preparedness. The Red Cross is prepared to shelter and feed people displaced by disasters, residential fires, wildfires or other events.
Supplies such as cots, blankets and water are already in place across the eclipse path and volunteers and resources are standing by if needed.
"An influx of population combined with dry conditions and visitors who many not have taken individual preparedness steps creates a number of potential issues in the region such as wildfires, heavy traffic and depleted supplies," said Monique Dugaw, Red Cross regional director of communications in Portland. "The focus of the Red Cross is to help empower people to prepare themselves and their families for the potential of emergency situations during the eclipse and beyond. By putting together an emergency preparedness kit in your car and at home, you can be more resilient in the face of any disaster or emergency that may occur."
211info of Oregon and Southwest Washington is working with the Central Oregon Emergency Information Network and others to provide information to people in case of an emergency.
People can call 211, text "eclipse" to 898211 or view eclipse-related information on the 211 website www.211info.org/eclipse.
American Medical Response is working with the Oregon Health Authority and state emergency management officials to deploy 23 ambulances and 46 paramedics and EMTs in places in the eclipse path of totality. That includes the towns of Huntington, Unity, Mitchell, Spray and Maupin. Ambulances also will be ready in the Cow Canyon Rest Area, South of Highway 197, at Bear Springs near the Junction of Highways and 26, in Warm Springs and at the Blue Mountain Hospital in John Day.
The ambulance company also has about four dozen emergency vehicles deployed near wildfires across the Northwest.
'All hands on deck'
Pacific Power said it is taking an "all-hands-on-deck" approach to the eclipse, like a winter storm, with some work postponed and equipment put in place for ready use if necessary.
Pacific Power, which serves about 750,000 customers in Oregon, Washington and California, doesn't anticipate a power outage because of the influx of visitors. But, it's preparing for something big just in case.
"Our main concern is being able to get to an outage," said Curtis Mansfield, vice president for operations. "Roads may be congested. We are working with local authorities to assure access. Other emergency vehicles will also need to navigate traffic jams and special safety passages will be maintained in many areas."
Colleges, Meals on Wheels sites closed
The Meals on Wheels People also plan to close its dining centers and suspend Meals on Wheels delivery on Monday. The group's homebound clients got a frozen meal on Friday that can be heated and eaten on Monday.
"We want to ensure the safety of both our clients and our volunteers," said Suzanne Washington, Meals on Wheels People executive director. "The total solar eclipse will cause dusk-like conditions between 10 a.m. and noon at the time when all Meals on Wheels deliveries are made and our senior diners are coming into the centers. Because of anticipated traffic issues and a high volume of tourists, the roads may be hazardous to navigate. Any senior diner who needs a meal on Monday will receive a frozen meal to take home on Friday."
Dry conditions prompt burn bans
The Keep Oregon Green Association is asking campers and others to be especially careful during the weekend because dry conditions could lead to wildfires.
"Oregon residents have high expectations that tourists coming to view the eclipse will be respectful and leave our landscapes as beautiful as they found them," said Kristin Babbs, association president. "It's a tall order for visitors to fill; our own residents are having a hard time preventing wildfire starts themselves."
The U.S. Forest Service said campfires will be banned in most national forests across the state. In some cases, smoking is also prohibited in forests outside of developed recreation areas.
Forest Service officials reminded visitors that more than a dozen major wildfires are burning across the Pacific Northwest, with about 7,200 firefighters and others battling the blazes.
"We are excited to welcome visitors to experience this once-in-a-lifetime event on public lands," said Jim Peña, Pacific Northwest regional forester. "To ensure a safe and memorable eclipse experience, have a plan, be prepared, and know before you go what kind of restrictions or closures may be in place."
Oregon's Parks and Recreation Department is also banning all campfires and open flames in state parks. "Most state parks are already under a fire restriction due to hot, dry conditions," said MG Devereux, agency deputy director. "We are expanding these restrictions to prevent any unintentional fires in state parks that would add an unnecessary burden to firefighting efforts."
Corps closes dams, reserviors
The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers will close some dams to vehicles and pedestrians during the eclipse. The road over Detroit Dam will be closed from 6 a.m. to 1 p.m. The overlook area adjacent to the dam on Highway 22 will be closed from 1 p.m. on Sunday, Aug. 20, to 1 p.m. on Aug. 21. The road over Green Peter Dam, including Billings Park on the east side of the dam, will be closed from 4 p.m. on Sunday to 1 p.m. on Monday. The road over Cougar Dam is closed because of construction.
Other Corps facilities that will be closed include Foster Dam and reservoir, Blue River Dam and reservoir, Dexter Dam and reservoir, Fall Creek Dam and reservoir,
Fern Ridge Dam and reservoir, Lookout Point Dam and reservoir, Hills Creek Dam and reservoir, Cottage Grove Dam and reservoir, Dorena Dam and reservoir, Bonneville Lock and Dam, The Dalles Lock and Dam, John Day Lock and Dam and Willow Creek Dam.