Local News

Eclipse has NC officials readying for when sun don't shine

Posted April 21

— The state Division of Emergency Management is skilled at preparing for hurricanes and massive winter storms, but officials have been working for almost a year getting ready for something they've never dealt with before: a total solar eclipse that could bring thousands of people to western North Carolina.

The eclipse will move in a 60-mile-wide strip from Salem, Ore., to Charleston, S.C. in about 90 minutes on Aug. 21 as the moon passes between the Earth and the sun. The southwest corner of North Carolina is the only part of the state in the path of the total eclipse – Raleigh is expected to see the moon blocking about 90 percent of the afternoon sun – and people there will see it for only about two minutes.

Still, the event is so rare – the last total eclipse in North Carolina was in 1970 and the next one won't occur until 2078 – that emergency management officials have been working on logistics since last June.

"Our astronomy community made us aware of it. I had the deer-in-the-headlights look, and when they started explaining their concerns, we took a proactive approach to being prepared," said Mike Cooke, manager of the Division of Emergency Management's Western Branch office in Conover.

Ads are already beckoning eclipse-watchers to the North Carolina mountains.

"In the astrology world, this is their Super Bowl, their World Series, their NBA finals all rolled into one day," said Todd Dillard, director of emergency management for Jackson County.

The big unknown is how many people will flock to North Carolina to gaze skyward – 100, 1,000 or 100,000?

Emergency officials are working on positioning digital message boards, portable lights and other equipment so it can be moved from other parts of the state and be in place to help with traffic control. They also are lining up ambulances and extra law enforcement officers.

"What if there's a large automobile accident that closes a major artery? How do we deal with things of that nature?" Dillard said.

Officials also are concerned that 911 centers could be swamped that day.

"We're concerned with possibly a huge overload of 911 systems. We tell people to only call in an emergency, but people call just wanting information," Dillard said.

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