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Times Square Welcomes 2000

January 1, 2000

NEW YORK (AP) _ Times Square celebrated New Year’s Eve for the world Friday in a wild street party that exploded when the millennium arrived in America. At midnight, a flashing, glittering crystal ball dropped to a countdown from a cheering, banner-waving crowd that flooded midtown.

The 20th century passed into history with more than a million people in and around the square. The crystal ball’s descent in Times Square is traditional, but the ball was newly designed for the millennium _ with 90 rotating pyramid mirrors that sent lights dancing across the crowd below.

Despite warnings of terrorism, people had come from around the world to greet 2000 in the place that Americans traditionally look to for the signal of a new year.

Some 500 perfomers presented music, dance, light shows and giant puppets to mark the New Year in all the world’s time zones, and 17 New Year’s Eves had gone by _ from New Zealand in the Pacific to Bermuda in the Atlantic _ before it was New York’s turn.

Japanese visitors watched pink confetti fashioned to look like cherry blossoms drift down, marking the new year in Tokyo. Englishmen yelled as 2000′s arrival in London flashed onto the square’s giant TV screens, and Argentines waved their flags at the appropriate hour.

But at midnight in New York, with strobe lights flashing from the Waterford crystal ball, it looked like an American New Year _ with revelers kissing, dancing, blowing horns and breaking into Auld Lang Syne.

The $7 million party started when it was midnight in New Zealand, Fiji and Tonga (dawn Friday in New York) and was to end with the start of a new century in Western Samoa, French Polynesia and Nuku Hiva in the Marquesas Islands.

``We can feel our country here,″ Miwa Shinoda, a Japanese living in New York, said as the cherry blossom confetti rained and the boom of traditional Taiko drums echoed through the square at 10 a.m. _ midnight in Japan.

The 1,070-pound Waterford crystal ball heralding the new millennium descended a 77-foot pole at midnight as millions watched on television.

The peaceful crowd swelled northward up Broadway toward Central Park, nearly 20 blocks from the ball’s home at One Times Square. Four hours before midnight, police said the Times Square area was filled to capacity. They provided no official crowd count, but veteran observers said it easily exceeded 1 million.

Zarar Aflam of London said police at 9 p.m. turned him away from 45th Street and told him to head north about 20 blocks, where people were being allowed to enter the celebration.

``I’m quite appalled with the system,″ Aflam said. ``We spent so much money to come here. They’ve overdone it with the precautions. They’ve gone over the top.″

Others were taking the crush of people more in stride.

Patty Goss, 36, who suffered a cerebral hemorrhage several years ago and uses a wheelchair, flew alone from Springfield, Mo., to see the once-in-a-lifetime event.

``My friends thought I was kind of crazy to do this, and nobody wanted to come with me, but this was my lifelong dream,″ she said.

Goss was even nonchalant about the 30-degree weather _ wearing only a short-sleeved T-shirt and a sport jacket, which was all she had after the airline lost her luggage.

``I’m kind of cold, but I’m not freezing, and I wouldn’t leave if it killed me.″

Dustin Landis drove in from Green Lane, Pa., with his wife and two daughters, 4 and 7.

``When they grow up and someone asks where they were on New Year’s Eve of the millennium, I just want them to be able to say, `Times Square,‴ Landis said.

Security was tight because of fears that terrorists might see the big crowd as a dream target. Only a day earlier, a man living in Brooklyn was arrested as an accomplice to a fellow Algerian caught in Washington state Dec. 14 trying to bring explosives into the United States.

City and federal officials said they knew of no credible threat against the city.

But by midnight, some 8,000 police officers were stationed in and around the Times Square area _ more than double the usual number on New Year’s Eve. Some officers were equipped with anthrax antidote kits in case of a biological attack.

Police also locked mailboxes, welded manhole covers shut, removed trash cans and searched cars parked in nearby garages. Huge orange city sanitation trucks blocked surrounding streets to prevent vehicles from reaching Times Square.

Nearby, tractor-trailers with showers that can be used as decontamination chambers were set up.

Late in the morning Friday, police shouted out a bomb warning between 46th and 47th Streets. But the abandoned red knapsack that alarmed police turned out to be harmless.

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