Rain, not the moon, casts a shadow over Shanghai

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 23 July, 2009, 12:00am
UPDATED : Thursday, 23 July, 2009, 12:00am

The skies above Shanghai began to darken just after 9am, but it was not clear if this was due to the solar eclipse or the massive rainstorm that coincided with the cosmic alignment.

The heavens opened a few minutes before totality was due, drenching thousands of hopeful sun-gazers, many of whom had been waiting for hours or travelled long distances.

Bang on cue, at 9.36am, the entire city was plunged into almost six minutes of total darkness.

The thick cloud cover and unrelenting rain meant the sun and the moon never put in an appearance, but that did not deter eager spectators from crowding onto pavements and into public parks to take part in a once-in-a-lifetime experience.

All along the Bund, the city's iconic colonial riverfront, people poured out of offices and shops to huddle under umbrellas and in doorways staring across the Huangpu River at the suddenly darkened silhouettes of the financial district.

'It's even darker than nighttime,' one spectator cried out as the gloom set in. 'There isn't even a single star.'

But for most, the longest solar eclipse of the century was an anticlimax.

'We got up at 5am and have been waiting here since 7am,' said Zhang Wen , who was there with his wife. 'The weather wasn't too bad when we first arrived, and there were occasional glimpses of the sun. But then, at the crucial moment, the clouds closed in and we couldn't see anything. It's a real disappointment.'

In the end, a few glimpses of a partially eclipsed sun were all that city residents were able to snatch, some time after the full eclipse had passed.

But even if it was not directly visible, the eclipse brought its fair share of chaos to the city. Hundreds of car accidents were reported during the abnormal darkness - even though local authorities switched on street lights on main roads and placed extra traffic police on patrol.

Shanghai was the last major city to fall under the moon's shadow before it raced out across the ocean. It had crossed into Tibet from Bhutan 30 minutes earlier, before sweeping over more than 40 mainland cities.

From the Himalayan foothills, the arc passed over the whole Yangtze River basin - one of the most populated regions on the planet - making this probably the most-witnessed eclipse in human history.

From Chengdu to Hangzhou , millions got out their safety specs and cameras to take part in the phenomenon.

But as in Shanghai, the weather just refused to play ball in most areas.

Spectators in Chongqing fared better than most, with clear views of the eclipse breaking through the patchy cloud cover.

A group of true eclipse enthusiasts had decided not to leave it to chance. They boarded a specially chartered aircraft in Chongqing and chased the lunar shadow from above the clouds.

Other enthusiasts boarded scheduled flights travelling eastwards along the Yangtze during the eclipse.

Tao Ying, a reporter for the West China City Daily, said the pilots of her Sichuan Airlines flight from Chengdu to Shanghai had circled during the eclipse so that all the passengers had a chance to see it.

'Most of us saw a partial eclipse that was very clear, and the passengers were very excited,' she said. 'Only a small minority were on board solely for viewing the eclipse. Most of them were on a business trip or travelling, but they were all prepared with safety glasses.'