Texas county declares state of emergency ahead of Great North American Eclipse

Communities from Texas to Maine have planned special viewing events on April 8. More than 30 million Americans are estimated to live in the path of totality, with many millions more expected to travel to the 15 states where the event will be visible.

BELTON, Texas – The approaching total solar eclipse that will be visible across much of North America has forced officials in Bell County, Texas, to declare a state of emergency as a swell of visitors is anticipated to get a front-row view of the path of totality.

According to the latest census, the county north of Austin has a year-round population of just under 400,000, but that figure could reach nearly a million around April 8, the date of the much-anticipated event.

The county sits in what is called the path of totality, where the Moon will completely block the Sun for several minutes, leading to temporary darkness.

"Projections are for this influx of people to begin occurring as early as several days before April 8th, with an outmigration occurring in the few hours immediately following the eclipse this year," Bell County Judge David Blackburn stated during a news conference. "If these numbers manifest themselves, the strain that this will put on our infrastructure will be significant. Everything from our first responders, to our health care systems, to our fueling stations, to our highways, to our emergency management stations and more. All of these could be severely strained by the influx of people."


Officials did not state why they suspect their community to be particularly hard hit by visitors, but it does sit along the busy Interstate 35 corridor between major metroplexes such as Dallas, Austin and Houston.

Other cities that are in the path of totality in the Lone Star State include parts of San Antonio, Austin, Waco and Dallas-Fort Worth.

In Bell County, the eclipse will begin just after noon and reach its maximum extent about an hour later. The episode of complete totality is expected to begin at 1:36 PM CDT and last for less than 4 minutes.

During the eclipse, spectators are strongly encouraged to wear specialized safety glasses if they plan to look directly at the Sun. These will likely be in short supply as they were in 2017.

The 2017 total solar eclipse traversed much of the U.S., and the American Astronomical Society Solar Eclipse Task Force said many went onto online bargain sites and bought glasses that had not been properly tested.


Other items there is expected to be a localized run on include gas, food, money and medications.

Officials are urging Bell County residents to prepare as if a natural disaster is on the way, so they don’t get caught off-guard by the sudden uptick in demand during the solar eclipse.

Additionally, the doubling of the population is expected to strain cell phone services, rendering some communications potentially unavailable.

"Do not be alarmed if you find that your cell phone service is interrupted off and on throughout the days of this event," Bell County Emergency Management Coordinator Bob Reinhard said. "With this increase in population comes an increase on cell towers, and congestion could lead to temporary service interruptions. If you need the assistance of our first responders and all you have is a cell phone - instead of calling 911- send a text to 911. Text messages will be more reliable and take a lot less use of our cell towers than a voice call will. Our 911 communication center is set up to receive 911 texts. And we’ll have additional staff working to answer all the calls and text to come in."