New Year revellers around the planet began welcoming 2011 in a blaze of fireworks and parties Friday, 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 the Harbour Bridge — even as Australia’s northeast battled devastating floods.
In Europe, crowds were set to throng landmarks like London’s Big Ben and the Eiffel Tower, following a big freeze that paralysed travel and cut power and water supplies for tens of thousands.
And New York workers were scrambling to plough snow out of Times Square for the famous New Year countdown, after a blizzard dumped 32 inches (80 centimetres) on the city and surrounding areas.
Party-goers carrying blankets and camping equipment began descending on Sydney harbour more than 12 hours before the main fireworks display at 1300 GMT, with new arrivals turned away as early as 3pm (0400 GMT), the Australian Associated Press reported.
Extreme, 43 degrees C (109 F) 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 at 1000 GMT. The deeply religious community of about 6,000 had been set to mark the occasion with village church services.
New Zealand, which has experienced 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 revellers.
In Asia, about 400,000 were expected at a glittering fireworks-and-laser display along neon-lit Hong Kong’s harbour, while millions of Japanese will visit Shinto shrines to “purify” themselves.
Although Lunar New Year is a much bigger event in the continent, thousands will brave Beijing’s cold for the countdown at an upmarket shopping centre, 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 revellers.
Midnight marks the beginning of year 100 on Taiwan’s calendar, and was to be celebrated with Taipei’s biggest ever New Year fireworks costing 60 million Taiwan dollars (two million US) and a concert by pop idols.
Thousands of people will 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 — is the centrepiece 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”.
Revellers 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 will 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.
Millions of others will crowd landmarks like Rome’s Colosseum and the Brandenburg Gate in Berlin, as well as Paris’s Champs Elysees and the Puerta del Sol in Madrid.
Earlier, organisers were forced to cancel a giant January 1 snowball fight in Berlin after 8,000 signed up, while in New York this week, people wrote down and shredded bad memories of 2010 in Times Square for “Good Riddance Day”.