Oregon officials say no mayhem or big eclipse problems
By ANDREW SELSKY
Aug. 22, 2017
SALEM, Ore. (AP) — No raging forest fires trapped people. The telecommunications system didn't crash. There were only a few traffic jams. Tourists spent money in restaurants and brewpubs, and found gas to get around. Even the weather cooperated, with skies mostly clear across Oregon for the eclipse.
Emergency responders had prepared for the worst, using practice runs for a massive earthquake as a template. Oregon National Guard troops and their Blackhawk helicopters were ready to help in evacuations.
But Oregonians and an uncounted number of visitors from the U.S. and abroad came together and experienced awe as the moon eclipsed the sun, putting part of the state in total eclipse, with stars coming out and temperatures plunging.
"I'm still basking in the glow of really what was an incredible experience in terms of being able to see the eclipse and a positive and safe experience throughout Oregon for everybody," Andrew Phelps, the director of the Oregon Office of Emergency Management, said Tuesday.
Oregon was one of 14 U.S. states in the path of the total eclipse on Monday, and the first to experience it. No major problems were reported in any of the other states, though some had the misfortune of having rain or clouds during the celestial event.
Officials had warned that up to 1 million visitors could come to Oregon, which has only 4 million residents. They don't have estimates yet of how many actually showed up.
"I think that we didn't have any of the issues or major public safety concerns that we kind of whiteboarded and what-iffed throughout the planning process: what if a major fire erupts, what if there's some kind of transportation disaster ... what if there's a supply chain issue and we can't get fuel into central or rural parts of Oregon," Phelps said. "None of those things played out."
There were some traffic jams as many eclipse watchers, who had come to the 70-mile (112-kilometer) wide band of total eclipse over many hours and several days, headed home at the same time. At the traffic peak, it took over four hours Monday afternoon to get from Salem, the state capital that was in the total eclipse band, to Portland, just 50 miles (80 kilometers) away on U.S. Interstate 5.
Some towns were bracing for huge numbers of visitors, but fewer came.
Up to 50,000 people had been expected to overwhelm Mitchell, one of Oregon's tiniest towns with 150 souls. Local residents worried they wouldn't be able to service them all. But only 2,000 showed up, The Bulletin newspaper reported.
"Thank God," Karen Osborn, co-owner of Wheeler County Trading, told the Bend newspaper.
Mayor Vernita Jordan said the economic boost for Mitchell, which sits between the John Day fossil beds and the mountainous Ochoco National Forest, was welcome.
"Winter is very slim for them. If they can get a boost now, that's going to mean they can survive through the winter, maybe," she told The Bulletin.
It is too early to tell how many visitors came and how much they spent. Tourism is a big revenue generator in this Pacific Northwest state, bringing $11.3 billion in direct travel spending in 2016, according to a report published by the Oregon Tourism Commission.
Andrew Selsky is on Twitter at https://twitter.com/andrewselsky