Asia plunges into darkness at dawn
TOKIYO: Millions of Asians turned their eyes skyward today as dawn suddenly turned to darkness across the continent in the longest total solar eclipse this century will see. Millions of others, fearing a bad omen, shuttered themselves indoors.
Chinese launched fireworks and danced in Shanghai. On a remote Japanese island, bewildered cattle went to their feeding troughs thinking night had fallen. And in India, a woman was crushed as thousands of viewers crowded the banks of the Ganges for a glimpse.
Starting off in India just after dawn, the eclipse was visible across a wide
swath of Asia before moving over southern Japan and then off into the Pacific Ocean. In some parts of Asia, it lasted as long as 6 minutes and 39 seconds.
The eclipse is the longest since July 11, 1991, when a total eclipse lasting 6 minutes, 53 seconds was visible from Hawaii to South America. There will not be a longer eclipse than Wednesday’s until 2132.
The celestial event was met by a mixture of awe, excitement and fear.
Cloudy skies and rain damped the show in many areas, but villagers in the town of Varanasi, on the banks of the Ganges in India, got one of the best views.
Thousands of Hindus took to the waters to cleanse their sins. The eclipse was seen there for 3 minutes and 48 seconds.
The gathering was marred when a 65-year-old woman was killed and six people injured in a stampede at one of the river’s banks where about 2,500 people had gathered, said police spokesman Surendra Srivastava. He said it is not clear how the stampede started.
On the tiny Japanese island of Akuseki, where the total eclipse lasted 6 minutes and 25 seconds, more than 200 tourists had to take shelter inside a school gymnasium due to a tornado warning.
But when the sky started to darken, everyone rushed out to the schoolyard, cheering and applauding, said island official Seiichiro Fukumitsu.
“The sky turned dark like in the dead of the night. The air turned cooler and cicadas stopped singing. Everything was so exciting and moving,” Fukumitsu said.
Jubilant eclipse watchers in China set off fireworks near the banks of the Qiantang River in coastal Zheijiang province as skies darkened overhead for about six minutes. Visitors from countries including Britain, Germany and Australia joined curious Chinese onlookers. Heavy clouds blocked the full eclipse but watchers saw a partial one.
In Beijing, a thick blanket of grayish smog blotted out the sky. In coastal Shanghai, eclipse watchers were disappointed by a light drizzle in the morning. As the sky darkened fully for about five minutes, however, watchers became excited.
At a Buddhist temple in Bangkok, dozens of monks led a mass prayer at a Buddhist temple to ward off evil.