MADRAS, Ore. (AP) — Just before sunrise, there’s typically nothing atop Round Butte but the whistle of the wind and a panoramic view of Oregon’s second-highest peak glowing pink in the faint light.
But on Aug. 21, local officials expect this lookout point just outside the small town of Madras to be crammed with people from around the world, all hoping for the first glimpse of the moon’s shadow as it crosses Mount Jefferson’s snow fields. Then, a solar eclipse will throw the entire region into complete darkness for two minutes.
The first coast-to-coast total solar eclipse to cross the continental United States in 99 years will first be visible in Oregon, and Madras is predicted to be among the country’s best viewing spots because of its clear, high-desert skies, flat landscape and stunning mountain views.
Up to 1 million eclipse chasers will descend on Oregon for the celestial event, and officials are bracing for as many as 100,000 of them in and around Madras.
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In this vast expanse of ranches and farms, rural, two-lane roads could mean traffic jams of cosmic proportions. Every hotel in Madras is booked, some residents are renting their homes for $3,000 a night, and campers are expected to flood the national forests and grasslands during peak wildfire season.
The state’s emergency coordination center will gear up, and first responders will prepare to respond to any trouble as they would for an earthquake or other natural disaster. Cell towers could be overwhelmed, traffic will be gridlocked, and police and fire stretched to the max managing the crowds.
“Bring extra water, bring food. You need to be prepared to be able to survive on your own for 24 to 48 to 72 hours, just like you would in any sort of emergency,” said Dave Thompson, spokesman for the Oregon Department of Transportation. “This is pretty much a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, and…