New York braces for New Year's Eve

Published December 31, 2001 5:19PM (EST)

With Sept. 11 in mind, police and organizers of the New Year's Eve celebration braced for an expected half-million Times Square revelers ushering in 2002. Some hardy folks were already in place by dawn Monday, despite temperatures in the 20s.

Organizers made several changes to the annual celebration to honor the victims of the terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center and Pentagon, including a bell-ringing ceremony as the traditional crystal ball ascends to the top of its pole.

Despite the security precautions and the freezing weather, some intrepid revelers had already staked out space in Times Square by Monday morning.

Cesar Alvarez, 25, of Queens, got to his spot at 44th Street and Broadway on Sunday evening and was sitting in a folding chair wrapped in a 6-by-10 foot American flag trying to keep warm.

"It's going to be a nice party," said Alvarez, who is attending his fifth Times Square celebration.

"You can't be afraid," he added. "You've got to keep on going on with your life. Have fun."

Javier Romero, 21, traveled from Connecticut to meet friends who staked out a spot in Times Square at 3 a.m. He said participating in the New Year's celebration is part of getting back to normal.

"It's kind of my part of saying I'm not afraid," he said.

The Waterford crystal ball that drops each year will memorialize the victims of the attacks. The 504 triangular panels that cover the 1,070-pound ball are 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.

"New Year's Eve is a time when you look back," said Jeffrey Straus, president of Countdown Entertainment, one of the event's organizers. "We wanted to look back and honor those who were lost."

Security for the event also reflected the new reality in the wake of the terrorist assault in lower Manhattan, which claimed nearly 3,000 lives.

Though there was no credible security threat issued, police with handheld metal detectors planned to check pedestrians as they entered through checkpoints. Swarms of police were assigned to patrol, some on rooftops and in helicopters.

Some 500,000 revelers -- about the same as last year -- were expected to ring in the new year, as partygoers have done in Times Square since 1904. The first ball was dropped in 1907.

On Sunday, organizers test-dropped the 6-foot ball down the flagpole on the roof of 1 Times Square and said everything seemed in order. Ball-drop officials flinched at the mere suggestion that it might wind up dropping a few seconds late.

"It's not going to happen. Don't even say that," said Robert Esposito, acting president of the Times Square Business Improvement District. "If it did, a lot of people would be a few seconds late for everything all year, and we can't have that."

Mayor Rudolph Giuliani will push the button to start the drop at 11:59 p.m. It takes one minute for the ball to descend the 77-foot pole and disappear behind the glittering "2002" sign.

After Giuliani signals the drop and clocks turn to 2002, he will swear in Michael Bloomberg as the city's 108th mayor.

By Associated Press

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