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Thousands gather in South Carolina for total solar eclipse

  • Ezra Packham, of Jacksonville, Fla., looks through his solar glasses in preparation for the solar eclipse Monday, Aug. 21, 2017, on the beach at Isle of Palms, S.C. Ezra and his family said the wanted to come to the Isle of Palms because they wanted to be on the beach and the city of Isle of Palms was giving away solar glasses. (AP Photo/Mic Smith)

COLUMBIA, S.C. (AP) — Parts of South Carolina plunged into more than two minutes of darkness on Monday as a total solar eclipse finished its journey across the country before skirting off into the Atlantic Ocean.

Scalding end-of-summer temperatures dipped and a breeze began to kick up at around 2 p.m. as the sun became more and more overtaken by the moon in an area surrounding the capital city of Columbia. By 2:41 p.m., the orbs were fully aligned, leaving only a slight ring of light visible around the edge.

Totality lasted for 2 minutes, 36 seconds, as was predicted by forecasters. That’s among the longest periods of totality in the country. Skies were sunny, giving the thousands who traveled to Columbia from around the world a clear view.

NASA estimated that as many as 1 million visitors would be in South Carolina to view the eclipse. The total eclipse cast a shadow that raced through 14 states, starting in Oregon at 1:16 p.m. EDT and exiting near Charleston, South Carolina, at 2:47 p.m. EDT.

Around Columbia, officials and organizations altered plans due to the expected high volume of visitors in town. The University of South Carolina pushed student move-in at its main campus back a day to Tuesday to avoid eclipse-day congestion. City officials planned an elevated police presence in and around downtown due to expected heavy traffic, although officials hadn’t planned to close any streets. Thousands more than usual lined up at Riverbanks Zoo and Garden starting Monday morning.

Some area schools that started back last week cancelled classes Monday, although some campuses remained open for eclipse viewers and lectures on the event. Public schools in the Columbia area were set to reconvene Tuesday.

For its “Total Eclipse of the Park” on Monday, the Columbia Fireflies minor league baseball team set up a festival with interactive exhibits from science, technology, engineering and math-centric organizations in advance of its home game Monday. The team stopped play when totality hit Columbia at around 2:41 p.m. EDT. Players wore special glow-in-the-dark jerseys, which were set to go up for auction after the game.

Both of South Carolina’s political parties sought to capitalize on the total solar eclipse in fundraising campaigns. In an email entitled “‘Eclipse’ the Democrats!” the South Carolina Republican Party on Monday asked donors to contribute $20.18 toward the party’s efforts to “keep Democrats TOTALLY in the dark” in next year’s elections. Republicans currently hold all statewide elected offices and control both chambers of South Carolina’s Legislature.

The state’s Democratic Party sent supporters links to recent political articles in several outlets and reminded them of work ahead of the party.

“Nobody go blind today, there’s too much work to do for Democrats all across the state!” party officials wrote.

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Kinnard can be reached at http://twitter.com/MegKinnardAP. Read more of her work at http://bigstory.ap.org/content/meg-kinnard/

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