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Macy’s Parade Balloons Take Flight

November 26, 1998

NEW YORK (AP) _ Thousands of spectators bundled up in raincoats and gathered under umbrellas this morning for a rainy and blustery start to the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade.

Despite wind gusts to around 30 mph, the parade’s trademark giant balloons, including a new Babe the Pig, were in the line of march _ being guided under new safety rules to prevent accidents like that one that seriously injured a spectator last year.

``Sure it’s raining, but we’ve watched this on TV for so many years that we had to come and the rain won’t stop us,″ said Beverly Givens of Oak Grove, Ill., who was watching with her husband and two children.

``To see it live is just outstanding″ said Jim Spencer of Buffalo. ``The balloons are even bigger than they look to be on television.″

A commission composed of city officials and Macy’s administrators had ruled that if winds reach 23 mph and gusts hit 34 mph, the balloons must be grounded. But with winds a little below that threshold, the panel this morning gave the go-ahead for the 72nd annual parade.

This year, the big balloons were guided by up to 60 trained handlers, 20 more than last year. The 12 largest balloons even had utility vehicles as anchors and technicians to watch wind meters.

The city clamped down after last year’s parade was marred when the Cat in the Hat _ driven by fierce winds _ escaped from its handlers and slammed into a lamppost. Kathy Caronna, 34, was hit by the falling debris and suffered a fractured skull and brain damage. She has sued Macy’s and the city for $395 million.

Lampposts along the route were modified to avoid snags. And the balloons can be no larger than 70 feet high, 78 feet long and 40 feet wide.

That meant bidding farewell to a few lumbering creatures that couldn’t make the new size requirements: the Pink Panther, Woody Woodpecker and the Cat in the Hat have all been retired.

New this year are Babe, the sheep-herding pig who is starring in his second movie this week; Dexter, a boy genius from a cartoon program; and Wild Thing, a character from Maurice Sendak’s classic children’s book, ``Where the Wild Things Are.″

Thousands turned out to get a glimpse of the balloons as they were inflated outside the American Museum of Natural History on Wednesday.

``The Rugrats. They are my favoritest of all,″ said 5-year-old Brianna Everett. Her 9-year-old cousin, Thomas Ciccarelli, picked Spiderman.

Even Mayor Rudolph Giuliani weighed in on the vote during a news conference amid the half-filled balloons. And he was in Thomas’ camp.

``Spiderman is my favorite,″ he said, drawing a few boos from Rugrats loyalists.

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