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Total Eclipse Tuesday, 24 August, 1999, 11:53 GMT 12:53 UK
Earth wonders at heaven's gift
The eclpise
The eclipse as seen from an RAF Hercules at 11.11BST
Special report
Special report
11 August
It was an event that left few in its path untouched.

The century's final solar eclipse gave people across Europe and South Asia the chance to know in the most spectacular way that, whatever happens on Earth, it is part of something bigger.

Starting off the American coast, the shadow of the Moon raced across the Atlantic at 2,400 kph (1,500 mph).

A million people had travelled to Cornwall, south-west England, so they could stand in line with the Sun and Moon. For them, the first contact between the two came shortly before 10.00BST.

While others in Europe waited, across the UK outside the zone of totatily, people left offices and stood outside to be part of the partial experience.

Buddhist monks gathered at the Eiffel Tower
But the main prize - to witness the very last bead of light being extinguished, to see the Sun's heavenly crown explode, and then to behold the rebirth of the Sun - was denied those in Cornwall.

Joining them in the straight line to the Sun was heavy cloud cover. Crossed fingers, prayers and even sun dances had all been in vain.

Across the Channel in northern France there were clear skies, though, as there were in Munich - right until the moment of totality. A torrential downpour picked perhaps the worst moment of all to fall.

The streets of Ramnicu Valcea, the south-central city in Romania where totality could be seen the longest, were crammed.

In Egypt, Muslims shut themselves away on the orders of clerics. Others flocked to mosques as earthquakes and an out-of-season hailstorm intensified unease.

Jordan and Syria declared a national holiday. Russian TV found many Muscovites more concerned with domestic difficulties. One woman said: "I'm not really interested in the sky."

Anita Modjahedpour, from the Iranian capital Tehran, e-mailed BBC News Online's Talking Point to say: "My eyes have a little smart pain but it isn't important because the eclipse was so valuable for me and I know it will happen only once in lifetime."

turkish troops
Turkish commandos watched the eclipse while on guard in Sivas
Spectators in Pakistan and Bangladesh suffered the same fate as those in the UK, having their views obscured by clouds and having to resort to television.

Teenager Lubna Hamid, who waited on top of her house for an hour for the eclipse, said: "It is very unfortunate to miss such a rare spectacle."

And residents in Afghanistan painted a similar picture - too busy with struggling for survival against poverty and the conflict to bother with the eclipse

"More important for us is our stomachs and safety," said shopkeeper, Gul Agha.

Cornwall's St Michael's Mount during the blackout
In some Indian villages, priests rang temple bells and took turns beating steel plates with sticks to ward off evil.

But, like Pakistan, cloud cover meant most of India saw the eclipse departing the way it had arrived - obscured.

It finally ended in the Bay of Bengal at 12.36GMT.

But the disappointment of many of those who missed out could not hide the wonder of living through one of nature's greatest spectacles.

Cheers and tears had followed it along its path. On the Cornish beaches, people kissed, some danced, others sensed an eerie calm as the lights went out and came back on.

And considering the truly astronomic coincidences involved in seeing a total eclipse, it is perhaps no wonder. On no other planet in our solar system will the Sun and a moon appear the same size.

For that event to happen where there is life to appreciate it seems truly miraculous.

Europe Today's Catherine Guilyardi visits Perthes in France, one of the best European sites to see the eclipse
Watch the first contact as the Moon appears in front of the Sun
The BBC's Pallab Ghosh meets campers enduring the elements as they await the eclipse
Watch the eclipse view from Germany
BBC Bombay Correspondent Sanjeev Srivastava reports on how India is preparing for the eclipse
Emma Simpson looks at some of the best eclipse images from around the world
A sound picture of the eclipse across the globe from BBC's World At One
The BBC's Nick Bryant: Nature seldom offers such a brilliant spectacle
The BBC's Nick Bryant: "Tens of millions looked to the skies"
See also:

11 Aug 99 | Total Eclipse
24 Aug 99 | Total Eclipse
24 Aug 99 | Total Eclipse
11 Aug 99 | Total Eclipse
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