Eclipse crosses U.S. as millions view historic sight

By Andrew V. Pestano, Annie Martin and Allen Cone  |  Updated Aug. 21, 2017 at 10:34 PM
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Aug. 21 (UPI) -- The United States' first total solar eclipse in 38 years arrived Monday, as millions witnessed the historic event.

The eclipse became one of the largest mass migrations in human history, as experts said more than 200 million Americans were within a day's drive of the path of totality.

The partial eclipse began on the Oregon coast at 9:04 a.m., PDT -- between Lincoln City and Newport. The full eclipse started at 10:16 a.m., and the maximum phase occurred a minute later. It lasted for 1 minute when when the moon slid in front of the sun and blocked its light completely.

At 2:20 p.m. CDT, Carbondale, Ill., home of Southern Illinois University, had the nation's longest duration of total darkness at 2 minutes and 38 seconds.

The 15,000-seat Saluki Stadium was sold out for the eclipse, and it hosted a series of science-related talks, videos and activities. Outside the stadium, NASA held a four-hour live "Eclipse Megacast" that NASA TV, local stations and national networks aired.

"Anything is always better if you can bring the grandkids," Cheryl Hidalgo told the St. Louis Post Dispatch. She got her two grandchildren and husband up at 4 a.m. to leave St. Louis and drive two hours to Carbondale.

But a fat, low cloud permitted the spectators see catch less than five seconds of totality.

"You have to say it was disappointing just to get that glimpse of it," said Ellis, a 1980 graduate of SIU said to The Chicago Tribune. "That was a pretty mean trick."

In St. Louis, darkness fell over downtown.

John Brown of Fox affiliate KTVI in St. Louis posted on Twitter: "There is a great humanity message here, too. 'One sliver of light can brighten the world.' "

After 2 p.m., the total eclipse reached Nashville, Tenn., at 2:27 p.m.

A sold-out crowd of 8,000 people were watching the eclipse from First Tennessee Park.

"In this park right now we've got 35 states and 10 countries of folks who came to Nashville," Nashville Mayor Megan Barry said. "Once again Nashville knows how to throw a party and we're doing it here."

Barry said the eclipse reminded her of CMA Fest, but "in just like 96 seconds."

President Donald Trump watched the eclipse peak at 2:42 p.m. from the White House's Truman balcony on the second floor overlooking the South Lawn. The moon covered 81 percent of the sun.

Trump, sporting eclipse glasses for part of the viewing, watched it with his wife Melania and their son Barron.

According to a White House pool report, one aide shouted "don't look" when Trump initially came out and looked at the sky.

In Charleston, the eclipse reached totality at 2:46 p.m. and lasted 1 minutes and 40 seconds. GreatAmericanEclipse.com reported South Carolina is the closest destination to 94 million Americans.

A C-17 aircrew of reservists from Joint Base Charleston fly across South Carolina at an altitude of just under 10,000 feet with the back doors open and under the direct path of the eclipse.

The crew from the 315th Airlift Wing took part in a training mission to practice "time on target" tactics as they "catch" the eclipse shadow near Spartanburg and trace it to Awendaw near the coast.

The brief blackout across the United States concluded in South Carolina shortly after 4 p.m. EDT.

At the other end of the United States in Portland, several helicopters flew overhead for an hour prior to the city's maximum eclipse phase, while some cars honked on the roads. Visibility was high and the skies were clear.

As the moon passed, it became cooler and silent outside -- until revelers began to celebrate by setting off fireworks when the eclipse reached its fullest point.

"A very cool event! Hundreds of people at the local neighborhood school with kids, dogs and frisbees in tow. The temperature dropped 10 to 15 degrees and it got about as dark as twilight," Portland resident Joe Walsh told UPI. "Then the light came back, it warmed up and it feels back to normal."

The residents of Portland disrupted their daily schedules to witness the solar event.

"It was quiet, cool, with a dull gray sky. Streetlights came on and everyone outside was looking upward while wearing their eclipse glasses. It felt like a scene from a B-grade sci-fi movie," Miriam Sontz, the CEO of Portland institution Powell's Books, said.

Caitlin Mackenzie said that even though Portland was not in the path of totality, its residents celebrated the celestial occurrence.

"The eclipse was pretty neat! We weren't in the totality zone, but it did get dim outside. I looked at traffic this morning and the highways were empty for rush hour on a Monday morning," Mackenzie said. "When we went outside to look with our eclipse glasses, we noticed a lot of our neighbors doing the same thing. A neighbor actually set off fireworks! Nothing like celebrating science."

Farther east, the small town of Madras, Ore., which has been considered one of the best places to see the eclipse, has been preparing for months for a possible influx of up to 100,000 visitors. Sunday, the Oregon National Guard was called in, where the town of about 7,000 people faced gridlock traffic.

Madras held a "Solarfest" event at the Jefferson County fair grounds to celebrate the eclipse and to view the moment as a community with its visitors.

Oregon officials have urged visitors to possibly stay for an additional day or two after the eclipse passes, to avoid heavy traffic.

About 30,000 people were expected for the Oregon Eclipse 2017 festival at Big Summit Prairie, which is an area of private land surrounded by the Ochoco National Forest.

The Idaho communities of Placerville and Weiser were also in the path of totality. Officials in Weiser, populated by about 5,000 people, anticipated as many as 50,000 visitors.

"We are ready for anything quite honestly," Mayor Diana Thomas said. "There came a time last week where they were getting a little nervous because of some of the reports, seeing how it all came together though I think they are enjoying it."

The next total solar eclipse will be visible in the United States on April 8, 2024. With a different path, the total eclipse will be visible from Texas to Maine in the United States.

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