SANTEE -- The crowd screamed and squealed in awe at 2:44 p.m. Monday beside the gazebo at Santee Town Hall.

A much-anticipated solar eclipse was visible throughout The T&D Region and about 1,500 visitors paused in Santee to experience it.

The Santee Town Hall complex, and other areas in town, served as a front-seat spot to view Mother Nature's marvel.

"Wow!" said Jayden Lopez, a 10-year-old from Florida. He and his mother stood side by side looking skyward with wide smiles and laughter.

Matthew Brown of Barnwell said, "I love it!" as the moon covered the sun's glow for about two minutes.

And 7-year-old Mikah Gilmore of Santee, said, "It was cool. It had a look like a glowing moon."

His father, Jonathan Gilmore, brought him to the Santee Town Hall complex for a first-hand view.

"It was awesome," he said, adding that it felt a little "crazy" when darkness came over the area in the middle of the day.

Santee Mayor Donnie Hilliard said the town didn't know what to anticipate as far as the numbers of visitors, but officials were ready.

While supplies lasted, visitors helped themselves to 3,000 bottles of water and solar eclipse glasses, courtesy of the town.

The water bottles were depleted by 2 p.m., but the much-sought-after eclipse glasses were available throughout the event.

Visitors came to Santee to view the event from as far away as Dublin, Ireland, and London, England.

Ivelina Brode, of Varna, Bulgaria, visited Santee with her husband Thomas Brode, of Sarasota, Florida.

"It's not often you can see this twice," said Ivelina Brode, noting that she'd experienced a total solar eclipse in Bulgaria about 16 years ago.

Her husband said his birthday was Aug. 18, so he gave himself a solar eclipse to celebrate.

Over at Santee National Golf Course, many tailgating eclipse viewers set up cameras and telescopes to view the event.

Jerry Wolczanski, of Warrenton, Virginia, set up his homemade telescope at Santee National and enjoyed explaining to onlookers how he made it.

Then at Santee State Park, the numbers trying to enter the park created a long line of glowing brake lights as vehicles inched along trying to gain access. Dozens made U-turns on Santee State Park Road giving up on what seemed to be more of a hassle than it was worth.

By 11:30 a.m., the S.C. Department of Transportation announced that rest areas on Interstate 95 near Santee and Interstate 26 in Orangeburg and Calhoun counties were temporarily closed in both directions due to overflow capacity resulting from traffic associated with the solar eclipse.

Following the eclipse, visitors began to leave the area at the same time, which created numerous bottleneck situations around major interstate arteries.

Contact the writer: mbrown@timesanddemocrat.com or 803-533-5545. Follow on Twitter @MRBrownTandD.

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T&D Staff Writer

Martha Rose Brown covers crime and other topics. The South Carolina native has been a journalist for the past 15 years.

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