Crowds Ring In New Year In Times Square

By: Associated Press
By: Associated Press

Nearly 1 million revelers rang in 2004 with the dropping of the traditional New Year's Eve ball in Times Square - a joyous, confetti-filled bash that took place under some of the tightest security ever seen.

With snipers posted on rooftops and helicopters patrolling overhead, Mayor Michael Bloomberg and guest of honor, former Iraq prisoner of war Shoshana Johnson, pressed a small globe, sending the 1,070-pound crystal ball on a 60-second drop that culminated at the stroke of midnight.

"It was brilliant," said Tanya Starkin, a 23-year-old waitress from Ireland, as fireworks lighted up the sky. "Everyone was so worried about everything, and now everything is good."

The raising of the national terrorism alert to orange, its second-highest level, prompted cities across the country to step up police patrols, plan aerial surveillance and install equipment to detect chemical, biological or radiological contamination.

Metal detectors were brought in, manhole covers were sealed, and mailboxes, trash cans and newspaper boxes were removed. Police had seven helicopters to patrol above the crowd, including one with communications equipment and crowd-scanning cameras. The Department of Homeland Security sent fighter jets over New York for the night.

In Baltimore, Mayor Martin O'Malley led the countdown to midnight at the Inner Harbor, which was followed by 20 minutes of music and fireworks. In Boston, fireworks exploded over in the harbor and revelers tooted plastic horns on the Common throughout the night.

In New York, police said more officers were on duty this year than last, though they declined to give numbers. Last year the department said it deployed 2,000 officers in Times Square alone.

"We know that New York remains at the top of the terrorists' target list and we have to remain vigilant," Police Commissioner Ray Kelly said.

Police said there were no reports of crowd trouble.

Many revelers in Times Square had more mundane concerns than terrorism. Akiko Shiraishi, 21, a Japanese student studying in South Carolina, said she and her friends were "much more worried about the bathroom" than security.

New York-born performer Cyndi Lauper took the stage to lead the revelers, many of whom were wearing bright orange hats and waving red balloons, in a sing-along of tunes from her latest album.

In Las Vegas, the FBI checked hotel and airline records against terrorist watch lists in advance of a New Year's Eve celebration expected to draw 300,000 people.

"People can take comfort that anything and everything that can be done is being done," said FBI spokesman Todd Palmer, who said checks had not turned up a specific threat against the city.

Las Vegas police said sharpshooters would be posted on hotel-casino roofs, concrete barricades would close off certain routes and backpacks and bags would be searched.

The Federal Aviation Administration banned flights, except for scheduled commercial flights, over Manhattan and Las Vegas for several hours during the celebrations.

Crowds began gathering early Wednesday in Pasadena, Calif., for Thursday's 115th annual Rose Parade amid unprecedented security. Paradegoers staked out spots for a curbside sleepover as law enforcement officers - many of them undercover - fanned out along the route.

Tim Tussman, 46, of Grantsburg, Wis., brought his girlfriend, Becky Melin, 45, to see the parade as a belated birthday gift.

"It's an obvious target, but you hope they've taken all that into account," he said. "As a gardener, she loves flowers. We weren't going to miss it."

Officials previously canceled a street party in downtown Los Angeles, citing security concerns. In raising the nation's terrorist threat level, federal officials said al-Qaida might be planning a major attack on large gatherings during the holiday season.

In New Orleans, 40,000 to 50,000 people were expected to watch the lowering of a giant, grinning papier mache baby in the French Quarter at midnight.

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On the Net:

Times Square 2004: http://www.timessquarebid.org/new-year


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