By Dunstan Prial
NEW YORK – A crystal ball honoring victims of the World Trade Center attack dropped in Times Square at midnight Monday, signaling the arrival of 2002 and giving patriotic revelers a chance to bid farewell to a year of horrors and heroes.
Red, white and blue confetti fell as an estimated crowd of 500,000 turned out for the biggest New York City party since the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks. Neither heavy security nor harsh weather kept the crowds from turning out.
With a thumbs-up, Mayor Rudy Guilliani performed the last duty of his office by pushing the button that sent the Waterford crystal ball plunging in Times Square at midnight.
He swore in his successor, Michael Bloomberg, in an unusual public ceremony shortly after midnight.
The mayor earlier announced his plans for Giuliani Partners, a consulting firm that will have a strategic partnership with accounting firm Ernst &Young and include several of his top City Hall aides. He said he planned to complete the paperwork after swearing in Bloomberg.
Bloomberg said the ceremony at Times Square would send a message that the city has rebounded from Sept. 11.
Under tight security, New Year’s Eve revelers had lined up at security checkpoints to stake out spots for the annual dropping of the ball at the stroke of midnight.
Among them was Javier Romero, 21, who said participating in the celebration was part of getting back to normal after the terrorist attacks. “It’s kind of my part of saying I’m not afraid,” he said.
The crowd fell silent when the night’s official festivities began at 6 p.m. as 7-year-old Logan Miller, who lost his uncle in the attacks, rang a bell onstage at Times Square in a ceremony to honor the Sept. 11 victims. Bells were simultaneously rung at churches and synagogues citywide as the ball was hoisted into position.
A giant screen over Times Square displayed an image of a fluttering U.S. flag and listed every police precinct, firehouse, port authority unit, airline and nation that lost people in the attacks.
“I’ve been here nine years and the silence of a large crowd, the moment when Times Square was completely silent, was remarkable,” said event producer Peter Kohlmann. “I don’t think it’s ever been as silent as that.”
Some 500,000 people – about the same as last year – rang in the new year, as partygoers have done in Times Square since 1904.
“We thought we’d show our appreciation and American spirit to New York,” said Malinda Genieczko of Manalapan, N.J., who came to Times Square with her husband, Ken.
A few miles to the south, dozens of rescue workers continued digging Monday night through the World Trade Center ruins.
“I’m just looking forward to a new year,” said firefighter Larry Muccini, one of dozens of firefighters and police officers taking part in the round-the-clock effort.
At Times Square, some 7,000 police officers were on duty – twice the number for an ordinary New Year’s celebration – and some carried radiation detectors. There were also hand-held metal detectors and bomb-sniffing dogs at the checkpoints.
Plans called for police sharpshooters on rooftops, and all aircraft except police helicopters were banned over Times Square.
“When I was here in 2000, they came and checked everybody’s bag,” said Ernesto Becerrio, 27, of Boston. “I don’t mind if they do, because it’s for our safety.”
In addition to the bell-ringing ceremony, organizers made several changes to the celebration to honor the victims of the attacks. Thousands of red, white and blue balloons and pompoms were handed out.
The ball itself honored the victims. The 504 triangular panels that cover the 1,070-pound ball were engraved with the names of each police precinct, Port Authority of New York and New Jersey unit, firehouse, airline and nation that suffered losses Sept. 11.
Cesar Alvarez, 25, was in Times Square trying to keep warm in a folding chair wrapped in a 6-by-10-foot American flag.
“You can’t be afraid,” he said. “You’ve got to keep on going on with your life. Have fun.”
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