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Burnet County has declared a “local state of disaster” from April 4-10 in anticipation of the April 8 total solar eclipse, which is expected to more than double the county’s population. Several other counties expecting an impact from the eclipse also made disaster declarations, including Travis, Bell, Kendall, Kerr, and San Saba counties. 

“The best-case scenario is that this is a July Fourth on steroids,” said Burnet County Emergency Management Coordinator Derek Marchio in an interview with DailyTrib.com following the declaration. “The worst-case scenario is local roads being unusable and cell networks going down.”

Burnet County Judge James Oakley signed the declaration of emergency order on Tuesday, March 12. It goes into effect at midnight on April 4 and ends at 11:59 p.m. on April 10. The Commissioners Court has the power to extend the order if it chooses.

Burnet County and the Highland Lakes region are in the “path of totality” of the eclipse, which will pass from the southwest to the northeast directly through Lake Buchanan and offer the longest exposure to the complete shadowing of the sun by the moon. Another total solar eclipse will not happen in this region again for at least 360 years.

Totality will last for approximately four minutes and 26 seconds starting at around 1:36 p.m., but the moon will take about 2½ hours to pass across the sun. The entire eclipse will be from 12:17 p.m. to 2:57 p.m.

Eclipse path of totality
The ‘path of totality’ of the April 8, 2024, total solar eclipse runs directly through Lake Buchanan, making Burnet and Llano counties the best locations to see it. TimeandDate.com map

According to Marchio, the primary concern for officials is traffic from the onslaught of eclipse watchers. He estimates that travel times in the region could at least double, if not quadruple, which would make it impossible to promptly respond to emergencies.

The mass of visitors also could negatively impact cell service. The combined population of Burnet and Llano counties is about 77,000. The region’s roads and cell towers are not equipped to handle a doubling of demand overnight.

“We’re hoping that we can get as much of the population as prepared as possible,” Marchio said.

The disaster declaration includes a burn ban from April 4-10 to reduce the likelihood of emergency fire calls while roads are congested. 

The declaration also made several strong recommendations to Burnet County residents:

  • Register all public and private events with a capacity of 50 or more at bctxeclipse.com.
  • Make appropriate preparations, such as purchasing groceries, fuel, and medication the weekend before the eclipse. 
  • Do not over-purchase and engage in “panic buying.”
  • Do not schedule appointments or try to run errands on April 8.
  • Have backup communication plans in case cell service goes out.
  • Only call 911 in a true emergency, like a threat to life, potential loss of eyesight or limb, or severe injury.
  • Sign up for local alerts at warncentraltexas.org.

LLANO COUNTY

Llano County has not declared a state of emergency, and according to Emergency Management Coordinator Gilbert Bennett, it does not plan to do so until something happens.

“We have (a declaration) on standby,” he told DailyTrib.com. “You can’t declare a disaster until there is one.”

Llano County has some of the best eclipse-watching spots in the state, which could attract a large number of visitors, but Bennett did not want to declare a disaster based on speculation. He said it was the responsibility of residents to adequately prepare for heavy traffic, supply shortages, and spotty cell service.

“The key is to be prepared,” he said. “Every individual in every community needs to prepare and make their own plans. That will take the stress off emergency operations.”

Local leaders in Llano County have held town hall meetings and disseminated eclipse information for months to prepare residents.

Marchio told DailyTrib.com he is not sure exactly what will happen during the eclipse but said it would be better to be over-prepared than under.

dakota@thepicayune.com