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Towns, cities in path of total solar eclipse gear up for a few exciting moments

The spectacle will move millions of people around to view the event and inject money into local economies.

By Chris Benson
A composite image shows the moon covering the sun during an annular "Ring of Fire" solar eclipse near Bluff, Utah, in October. File Photo by Bob Strong/UPI
1 of 7 | A composite image shows the moon covering the sun during an annular "Ring of Fire" solar eclipse near Bluff, Utah, in October. File Photo by Bob Strong/UPI | License Photo

March 29 (UPI) -- Cities and towns in the path of a total solar eclipse April 8 expect throngs of visitors who will view a short-lived event, inject a great deal of money into the local economy and hopefully won't create chaos during their stay.

This first total eclipse across parts of the United States in nearly seven years will start at sunrise over the Pacific Ocean, pass through Mexico and cross a swath of the United States from Texas to Maine.

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Major cities that will experience the total eclipse are Texas cities San Antonio, Austin, Dallas, followed by Little Rock, Ark., Indianapolis, Cleveland and Buffalo before, being seen in Montreal and the Newfoundland coast near Gander, Canada.

Scores of small towns are in the path, as well, some equipped better than others to handle anticipated crowds and their need to buy gas, eat food and go to the restroom. Medical personnel will be standing by, and police agencies will be out in force,

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Why are so many people intrigued by this eclipse that will be seen in at least 15 states? One key reason is that next solar eclipse in the United States is 20 years away, though several others can be observed before that in other parts of the world.

Depending on weather and location, the eclipse could be viewed -- with a safety recommendation to wear protective eyewear -- for 2 to 4 minutes. Many parts of Texas -- such as Dallas, Austin, Waco -- will be in the path of totality, with the moon expected to begin covering the sun at 12:23 p.m. CDT.

Bell County -- north of Austin -- has declared a state of emergency ahead of the eclipse in anticipation of a large visitor influx in a state that has not seen a total solar eclipse for 146 years.

State officials said they expect a heavy traffic increase as spectators make their way to locations along 480 miles of roadway that will be in the path of totality.

"Many Texans will be able to see a total solar eclipse from their back yards," said Matthew Heinze, a Texas Department of Transportation official, who added that projections indicate nearly 1 million people will travel to or within the state that day.

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Arkansas expects a lot of attention, too. The state has not been in the path of a total solar eclipse since 1918, and state officials expect more than 1 one million visitors to areas where the eclipse can best be seen. That includes Little Rock, which expects more than 100,000 visitors.

In New England, Vermont, New Hampshire and Maine expect to provide a boost to local economies, and say the region will potentially see "hundreds of thousands of visitors" for the eclipse, NBC Boston reported.

School officials in Maine either adjusted class schedules for the day or canceled classes, citing traffic and other safety-related concerns. The University of Maine will send 10 students 90,000 feet up in a hot air balloon to obtain data and livestream the eclipse.

But skepticism exists in Canada about the chances of having a good view of the eclipse, with some saying the best way to view it would be to livestream it.

"The path of the shadow passes through very little of Canada," Leigh Hunt Palmer, a professor emeritus of astronomy at Simon Fraser University, told the Vancouver Sun. "It just grazes Canada, actually."

In Ohio, Fox 8 News in Cleveland reported an assortment of events being planned, including viewing parties, festivals, museum shows and restaurants opening that usually are closed on a Monday.

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Four western Pennsylvania counties adjacent to Ohio will be in the path of totality with the remainder of the "Keystone State" expected to be in the 99% to 88.65% magnitude of the eclipse. The last time that state was in the path of a total solar eclipse was 218 years ago, the state Department of Education said.

Back in Texas, Travis Houston, director of Dallas' Office of Emergency Management, told KDFW he started to plan for the eclipse a year ago. His biggest concern is to keep traffic moving.

"Making sure we understand how to keep ingress and egress active for first responders. How do we take care of stranded motorists, if that is an issue, and then how do we communicate to the public don't stop on the road to look at the eclipse?" Houston said.

He has encouraged employers to treat April 8 like a snow day, with only essential workers going to the office.

While officials throughout the country expect to be prepared for vehicular control, one town has a unique issue.

After the Great Northern Paper Co. closed its mill 10 years ago, East Millinocket, Maine, reset a tri-color signal to a yellow blinker for through traffic on State Route 157 and a red blinker on the intersecting roadway.

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Now, said Gail Fanjoy, president of the Katahdin Area Chamber of Commerce, the town is exploring how to restore the full traffic light ahead of eclipse weekend.

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