New Year’s revelers around the planet began welcoming 2011 in a blaze of fireworks and parties earlier today, temporarily banishing the misery of extreme weather that has struck across the world.
Countries in the Pacific became the first to mark the start of the year as a crowd of about 1.5 million crammed Sydney’s foreshore, drawn in record numbers by afternoon sunshine ahead of fireworks on Sydney Harbour Bridge — even as Australia’s northeast battled devastating floods.
In Europe, crowds were set to throng landmarks such as London’s Big Ben and the Eiffel Tower following a big freeze that has paralyzed travel and cut power and water supplies for tens of thousands.
In New York, workers were scrambling to plow snow out of Times Square for the famous New Year countdown, after a blizzard dumped 80cm on the city and surrounding areas.
Party-goers carrying blankets and camping equipment began descending on Sydney harbor more than 12 hours before the main fireworks display, with new arrivals turned away as early as 3pm, the Australian Associated Press reported.
Extreme, 43oC heat brought the risk of wildfires near Adelaide, while celebrations in the country’s north were muted by floods that left vast swathes of land underwater and forced thousands to leave their homes.
The tiny Pacific nation of Kiribati, just east of the international dateline, was the first to welcome in 2011. The deeply religious community of about 6,000 had been set to mark the occasion with village church services.
New Zealand, which has been experiencing a mild heatwave over the festive period, moved into 2011 soon after, with a fireworks spectacular in Auckland as part of a celebration themed “Hot in the City.”
Further south in Christchurch, hit by a powerful earthquake in September, officials only approved celebrations after late checks and modifications, including removing the city cathedral’s crucifix in case it fell on revelers.
In Asia, about 400,000 were expected at a glittering fireworks-and-laser display along neon-lit Hong Kong harbor, while millions of Japanese were set to visit Shinto shrines to “purify” themselves.
Although Lunar New Year is a much bigger event on the continent, thousands were set to brave Beijing’s cold for the countdown at an upmarket shopping center, while about 7,000 were expected at a kite-flying event in central Shanghai.
Seoul was to observe Buddhist tradition with a bell at Bosingak traditional pavilion rung 33 times by 11 civilian delegates in turn, watched by up to 100,000 revelers.
Thousands of people were expected to jam Hanoi’s Hoan Kiem Lake for midnight, while the “Bangkok Countdown” outside a glitzy mall — where major anti-government protests took place this year — was the centerpiece of Thailand’s celebrations.
In Myanmar, democracy champion Aung San Suu Kyi, released this year after more than seven years of house arrest, called for the country’s people “to struggle together with new strengths, new force and new words in the auspicious new year”.
Revelers in Indian financial and entertainment capital Mumbai — scene of a 2008 attack that killed 166 people — were given the go-ahead to party through the night, despite intelligence about a possible New Year militant strike.
Meanwhile, 250,000 people were set to throng the banks of London’s River Thames to hear Big Ben chime the last midnight of 2010, the traditional sound of the British New Year.
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