Wood River Valley preparing for total solar eclipse

Wood River Valley prepping for eclipse.

KETCHUM, Idaho -- We are now two and a half weeks away from the total solar eclipse - the first of its kind visible in the continental United States in 38 years.

Ketchum and Sun Valley are among dozens of cities in the Gem State that lie in the path of totality. Agencies there have been preparing for the rare, extraordinary event for months.

"A coordinated response is really important. And for everybody to know each other, who to call, what's happening," St. Luke's Public Relations and Communications Coordinator Joy Prudek said.

The Wood River Valley is expecting a huge influx of people - anywhere from about 35,000 to 100,000 visitors staying in the area. With more people comes to the possibility for more emergencies. So St. Luke's Wood River Medical Center is ramping up their resources and staff because they could be stretched thin.

Medical personnel across the area are gearing up for every type of situation: from a sprained ankle to a broken bone, from a heart attack to severe trauma, from dehydration to exposure and eye injuries. 

"We have definitely corralled our eye resources as much as possible," St. Luke's Wood River Director of Emergency Medicine Dr. Deb Robertson said. "We are anticipating more of our usual - and usual in the summertime ranges from car accidents, to recreational trauma."

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The emergency department at St. Luke's Wood River is expecting double the amount of patients they normally see on a summer day: They normally see 40 patients in a 24-hour time span this time of year; they are ramping up to accommodate 80 patients surrounding the event.

Dr. Robertson says on August 21 - and the weekend leading up to it - they will have have more physicians and surgeons on staff, as well as make more room in their buildings for patients. They added urgent care hours on the weekend from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. in their Physician Office Annex next to the hospital.

St. Luke's is partnering with the City of Ketchum, local emergency responders, law enforcement, Idaho Transportation Department and a handful of other agencies.

"A lot of coordination between police, hospital, fire and ambulance emergency services," Ketchum Mayor Nina Jonas said. "We are anticipating most travelers will come through here to try to get to Stanley."

The coordination is anticipation for the tens of thousands of people estimated to visit the area from Friday, August 18, through Tuesday, August 22.

"A lot of people who will be traveling here have not been here before," Prudek added.

Surrounded by mountains and rugged terrain, a huge concern in the Wood River Valley and over in Stanley and the Sawtooth National Recreation Area is with people heading up high to view the total solar eclipse.

"You can get lost pretty easily around here," Robertson added.

Cell service is already poor in the area, and with more people on their phones using data, service providers anticipate coverage will be spotty or could go down. If you head up to the mountains, officials are urging you to carry a map and let people know where you're headed.

"With all the people who might be going up onto the mountaintops, hillsides, going into the backcountry, that just increases the possibility that someone is going to need to get rescued," Dr. Robertson said.

"We are concerned that there will be some injuries, that people will sometimes need to be rescued off of hillsides, trails, etc. And we are asking them to be prepared for after that, they may have to stay put for a while because it may be difficult to reach them," Prudek told KTVB.

Wood River planning committee members say search and rescue might be a struggle, with their limited crews overwhelmed.

"They very well might be at capacity very quickly, trying to help people on the mountains," Robertson said. "There is only so much search and rescue resources that can be spread around."

And with possible gridlock on the one road in and one road out, traffic might hinder transportation for emergency vehicles and responders - whether you're in an isolated area or not.

In anticipation of that issue, an Air St. Luke's helicopter will be based out of the Wood River medical center for the eclipse, and will also fly up to nearby Stanley.

"I feel like we are as prepared as we can," Robertson added.

If you're in an emergency situation or just out and about, you must also be prepared. Stock up on gas, water, food, prescription medication, sunscreen, warm clothing and have a first-aid and a 72-hour kit handy.

"Our recommendation is get your cash, get your gas, get your water, get your food, and park and walk," Mayor Jonas said.

Jonas tells KTVB hotels in the area are full, more flights are being added to their local airport, and more buses are being scheduled to depart to Ketchum from Twin Falls.

© 2017 KTVB-TV


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