New York officials are urging residents and visitors to the city to go out and enjoy the nation's 226th Independence Day celebrations. But, they have also announced heightened security measures to safeguard the city from any terrorist attacks.
City and state officials say there have been no specific terrorist threats against New York, but they are not taking any chances as Americans celebrate the first Independence Day since the September 11 attacks.
With 4,000 police officers on patrol in New York City and more than 2,000 National Guard troops monitoring the Canadian border and bridges, tunnels and transportation hubs in the city, New York State Governor George Pataki says every precaution is being taken to enhance safety. "We will have everything from biological and chemical detection teams deployed in strategic areas of the state to bomb dogs, radiological detectors, the most advanced technology," he said.
State police and federal agents are working with local police to guard sensitive city facilities. Harbor and aviation patrols have been stepped up. New York Police Commissioner Raymond Kelly says extraordinary steps are necessary.
"After September 11," he commented, "we are doing things that we certainly did not do before September 11. I think it is a sign of the times. To me, it is prudent to put out the equipment and the personnel that we have put out."
Still, officials like Mayor Michael Bloomberg are telling New Yorkers not to let concerns about terrorism interfere with their enjoyment of the nation's birthday. "The main thing we want to continue to urge people to do is to go about their business," he said. "Don't let the terrorists win by making you afraid."
The centerpiece of every Fourth of July celebration in New York is a giant fireworks display, an annual gift to the city from Macy's Department Store. Five barges carrying some 148,000 pounds of pyrotechnics will fire 28,000 shells over the East River, starting just after nightfall. Patriotic music will accompany the pyrotechnics. "We are very excited. I think that this fireworks show is probably as important, if not more important, than any of the other ones that we have ever done," said Ronnie Taffet, special events coordinator for Macy's.
Tens of thousands of New Yorkers and visitors will watch the fireworks from a roadway that runs alongside the river. The roadway will be shut down mid-afternoon, and 14 police checkpoints along the way will monitor spectators' activities.
This year's firework extravaganza will take on a decidedly patriotic hue. Called a "Time to Heroes," it will include more red, white and blue than ever before. Gary Souza is one of the people responsible for creating the fireworks display. "We put together the most patriotic and passionate show that we could this year just to help celebrate and remember the things that have happened to us this year, to celebrate our independence," he said.
New Yorkers are apparently ready to enjoy Independence Day. A new statewide poll shows that almost half of the state's population thinks a terrorist attack is at least somewhat likely during the holiday. But a resounding 92 percent say they do not intend to change their plans.