Eclipse chasers bring in the bucks for 'totality towns'

Greg Milam, US Correspondent

Hundreds of American towns and cities are banking on an out-of-this-world pay day for the 'Great American Eclipse'.

A 70-mile wide swathe of the country, stretching from the Pacific coast to the Atlantic, falls in the "zone of totality" and will experience a complete blackout at the eclipse's peak.

Those prime viewing locations experienced an invasion, with tourists flooding in from across America and around the world.

Many cities spent hundreds of thousands of dollars on infrastructure improvements, hoping for a once-in-a-generation payback.

:: US eclipse expected to draw crowd of millions

The small town of Madras in Oregon, sitting in the clear air of the high desert, is regarded as one of the perfect places to witness the eclipse. Its population swelled from 6,000 to 100,000 in the weekend before the spectacle.

Tents, caravans and camper vans - from the most basic to the more extreme 'glamping' experience - sprawl across fairgrounds and farmland around the town.

The SolarFest event, organised in association with NASA, is one of the largest eclipse watching events in the country.

First-time sky watchers rub shoulders with veteran eclipse chasers, banks of cameras and telescopes sit poised facing sun-wards.

Al Smith has travelled the world watching total eclipses since his first in 1970.

"There is nothing compared to a total eclipse of the sun. It is mind-boggling," he said.

"This will be my seventh eclipse and I think everyone has to see one at least once in their lives because it is an unworldly experience literally."

Mary Jo Stevenson-Fullen has travelled from Hawaii to Madras. Cloud cover prevented her seeing a total eclipse on her home island in 1992.

"I'm just so excited and praying that I get to see that this time, the total eclipse."

While she has travelled east, Tom and Deirdre Duigan flew thousands of miles from Ireland. Tom was also foiled by bad weather when eclipse watching in France in 1999.

Tom said: "This is a great opportunity. Dee has never been to US, have a holiday, come to a great place and hopefully the weather will be good enough."

Deidre added: "Tom said 'August 2017, we're going to America to see the eclipse'."

While towns and cities are hoping for the economic windfall, analysts have warned the eclipse could cost US employers $694m (£541m) as workers stop to watch the eclipse.

Oregon was expecting a million visitors. The state mobilised the National Guard to provide support for emergency services already stretched by wildfire season.

The mayor of Madras, Royce Embanks, said: "We will do what we can and keep people safe and hopefully they'll be happy and they'll go home and tell good things about Madras."