Thu, Jul 23, 2009 - Page 5 News List

Some celebrate, others hide during total solar eclipse


Millions of Asians turned their eyes skyward yesterday for the longest solar eclipse of this century, a rare event that caused a fatal stampede of viewers on the Ganges River in India.

Millions of others — seeing the eclipse as a bad omen — shuttered themselves indoors.

The darkness prompted fireworks in China and sent cows to their feeding troughs for dinner on a Japanese island.

Starting off in India just after dawn, the eclipse was visible across a wide swath of the Asian continent before moving over southern Japan and then off into the Pacific Ocean.

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 yesterday’s until 2132.

Villagers in Varanasi, India, got one of the best views, with thousands of people taking to the waters to cleanse their sins.

The gathering was marred when a 65-year-old woman was killed and six people injured in a stampede, police said. It was not clear how the stampede started.

Others in India were gripped by fear and refused to come outdoors. In Hindu mythology, an eclipse is caused when a demon swallows the sun, while another myth is that sun rays during an eclipse harm unborn children.

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 because of a tornado warning.

But when the sky started to darken, everyone rushed out to the schoolyard cheering, island official Seiichiro Fukumitsu said.

“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.

Some villagers reported that their cows gathered at a feeding station, apparently mistaking the eclipse as a signal that it was dinner time, he said.

Jubilant eclipse watchers in China set off fireworks near the banks of the Qiantang River in Zhejiang Province.

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