National News

December 31, 2013

New Year’s in Times Square an endurance contest

NEW YORK — Crowds jammed Times Square on Tuesday to ring in 2014, braving bone-chilling cold and ultra-tight security for the chance to see Miley Cyrus, a final countdown from a U.S. Supreme Court justice and the drop of the shimmering crystal ball.

The sea of horn-tooting, hat-wearing humanity that filled the Crossroads of the World was part celebration, part endurance sport because post-Sept. 11 security measures force spectators into pens at least 12 hours in advance, with no food, no warmth and no place to go to the bathroom.

“We’ve got adult diapers. We’re wearing them right now,” said teenager Amber Woods, who came with friends from the New York City’s suburbs to experience the event for the first time. They entered their corral at 10 a.m. For nourishment, they brought lollipops and popcorn. For the cold, they did a lot of jumping in place.

“Every time I say, it’s the last. But then I come back,” said Yasmina Merrir, a Washington, D.C., resident attending her fourth Times Square ball drop. In 2009, the cold was so bad, she got hypothermia. Her legs swelled up like balloons.

She was also fasting and not drinking anything to deal with the lack of restrooms. As for the cold, she recommends vigorous dancing for as long as you can stand on your feet.

“At a point,” she said, “your brain is not working anymore.”

New York’s midnight celebration came as millions of people welcomed the new year in cities around the world, including jubilant events in London, where the fireworks came packed with edible confetti, and Dubai, which attempted to stage the world’s largest fireworks display.

Brianna Becerril, a singer and songwriter from Chino, Calif., persuaded her grandparents to join her at Times Square. As evening fell, they huddled together for warmth under big, furry hats, dined on cold chicken nuggets and drank nothing so they wouldn’t have to leave to find a toilet.

“It’s a once-in-a-lifetime experience!” Becerril said.

“Once in a lifetime for me, for sure. I mean, if I even survive. I can’t wait to get out of here,” said her smiling grandfather, Jerry Bender. But, he said, he was enjoying getting to know their neighbors in the pen, many of whom hailed from distant countries.

Even when she lived in Algeria in North Africa, Merrir said, she knew that Times Square was the place the world celebrated best on New Year’s Eve.

“It’s Times Square! It’s the ball!” she said. “The fireworks may be better in Dubai, or in London, but this is extra special.”

On the other side of the Atlantic, Britain welcomed 2014 with a mixture of futuristic fireworks and torch-lit tradition. For those in London, the event offered the opportunity to taste the fireworks.

The city’s mayor, in conjunction with telecommunications company Vodafone, said this year’s explosive display came packed with peach-flavored snow, edible banana confetti and orange-scented bubbles. The evening also included scratch-and-sniff programs, LED wristbands and fruit-flavored sweets.

In Dubai, a Persian Gulf city known for glitz, glamour and over-the-top achievements like the world’s tallest skyscraper, officials sought to break another record by creating the largest fireworks show.

The Dubai skyline was a canvas for a dazzling 30-minute show. The display capped off with six minutes of fireworks that engulfed the city’s man-made, palm-shaped island, with its fronds and trunk shimmering in thousands of lights.

Organizers had promised that the fireworks would form a flying falcon, a sunrise and the United Arab Emirates flag. It was not immediately clear if the promised designs or world record had been achieved.

The effort attempted to surpass the current world record held by another Gulf Arab state in just the first 60 seconds. Kuwait has held the record since last year, when it fired more than 77,000 fireworks in a display lasting more than an hour.

Guinness World Record officials were on hand to measure the scale of Dubai’s event, which needed to be longer than five minutes to qualify.

More than 260 people were injured by firecracker blasts and celebratory gunfire in the Philippines, a nation marking the end of a year of tragic disasters, including a Nov. 8 typhoon that left more than 6,100 dead and nearly 1,800 missing.

“Many here are welcoming the new year after losing their mothers, fathers, siblings and children so you can imagine how it feels,” said village chief Maria Rosario Bactol of Anibong community in Tacloban, the city worst hit by Typhoon Haiyan. “I tell them to face the reality, to move on and stand up, but I know it will never be easy.”

Back in New York, outgoing Mayor Michael Bloomberg, who hobnobbed with celebrities during past Times Square celebrations, was sitting out this year’s festivities to spend time with family and friends. Mayor-elect Bill de Blasio was to be sworn in at 12:01 a.m. Wednesday at his Brooklyn home.

Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor, a New York native, was to lead the final 60-second countdown and push the ceremonial button to drop the ball.

———

Associated Press writers Aya Batrawy in Dubai, United Arab Emirates; Rod McGuirk in Canberra, Australia; Jim Gomez in Manila, Philippines; Kelvin Chan in Hong Kong; Ali Kotarumalos in Jakarta, Indonesia; Ken Moritsugu, Yuri Kageyama and Eric Talmadge in Tokyo; Louise Watt in Beijing; and Colleen Long in New York contributed to this report.

 

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