Terrorism fears dampen fun of New Year's celebrations

Posted: Thursday, January 02, 2003

New Year's Day crowds in Pasadena, Calif., screamed and cheered Wednesday as a trio of military stealth planes streaked overhead for the Tournament of Roses Parade.

Nearly a continent away, rain forced the postponement of another new year tradition, Philadelph-ia's colorful Mummers Parade.

Earlier, as midnight chimed, revelers rang in 2003 at boisterous bashes in New York, Las Vegas and other cities, but the sour economy and fears of terrorism dampened some of the excitement.

Money and safety jitters also put a small dent in turnout for the 114th annual Rose Parade, said Pasadena police who tightened security for the 54-float spectacle. Still, hundreds of thousands turned out, cheering as a B-2 stealth bomber and a pair of F-117A Nighthawk stealth fighters zoomed over the parade route.

''It's good to see the stealth bomber,'' said Rick Fidler, 50, of Tulsa, Okla., acknowledging his concerns about security.

For the first time in 13 years, the Mummers Parade was postponed because of the weather. Rain and wind can damage the feathers, sequins and fabric that make up the elaborate costumes worn by thousands of participants. They'll get their chance to strut on Saturday, instead.

The weather was more cooperative at midnight in Manhattan, where an estimated 750,000 people gathered to watch the Times Square ball drop. Actor Christ-opher Reeve joined Mayor Michael Bloomberg to signal the descent of the 1,070-pound Water-ford crystal ball.

''In the 23 years of my life, this has been the best time I've ever had,'' said Lee Clark, who was visiting from London. ''The atmosphere, the people -- it's all great.''

Tens of thousands of people crowded the Las Vegas Strip for a midnight fireworks show launched from the roofs of 10 casinos. Many had been partying hard well in advance of the new year.

''This is the warmup stage,'' said David Douglas, across the Strip from a faux volcano that erupts four times an hour. ''We'll be yelling 'happy New Year' for the next three hours. After that we'll be too inebriated.''

Police officers were in full force at the gatherings, but few disturbances were reported.

In New York, sharpshooters were stationed on roofs, undercover officers mixed with the crowd, and some officers carried metal detectors.

Security was heightened at New York Harbor after the Department of Homeland Security issued a low-level alert for the city's ports.

The possibility of a terrorist attack was enough to keep Joy Koehl away from the Vegas party. The American Airlines flight attendant headed to bed early, partly because she was ''a little worried about terrorism.''

''It's a high-profile place and there's a lot of people here,'' said Koehl, 45, of Palmetto, Ga.

Several communities put their own spins on New York's ball-dropping. In Pennsylvania, a 9-foot wooden lollipop dropped at Hummelstown, a 100-pound slab of bologna was lowered in Lebanon, and a giant green pickle mascot took a plunge into a barrel in Dillsburg.

At Prairie du Chien, Wis., a crowd of about 500 people gathered for the second-annual Droppin' of the Carp.

In New York, many partygoers who stood for hours to be in Times Square at the stroke of midnight said the spectacle was well worth the wait.

Lauren Scott, 12, had but one New Year's resolution: ''Come next year.''

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