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Miami Takes Precautions for July 4 Celebrations

Across the United States, officials are reviewing security measures ahead of the July 4 Independence Day holiday with an eye towards any terrorist threats that may arise. In south Florida, officials say the task is complicated by the fact that they are not sure what, exactly, they should be looking for.

Every July 4, authorities issue safety warnings to the public. Most have to do with the proper handling of fireworks. Here, explosives experts demonstrate the destructive potential of large firecrackers by blowing up watermelons and other fruit.

But this year is different. In the wake of the September 11 terrorist attacks in New York and Washington, federal officials say Americans should be vigilant this July 4. Secretary of State Colin Powell said, "this is a time for us to be cautious and to be prudent and to keep our guard up, but also to enjoy ourselves on the fourth [of July]."

The warning is being taken seriously in south Florida, where the FBI has set up a special operations center. Thursday, agents will field calls about any suspicious activities noted by local officials and the general public, according to spokeswoman Judy Orihuela. "We do not have any specific information that anything is going to happen on July 4," she said. "But because of the significance of the holiday we want to be prepared."

But the vague nature of the warnings issued from Washington is causing consternation among local authorities. Miami Police Lieutenant Bill Schwartz says it is difficult to prepare for a possible threat without any information as to the form it may take. "You know, in a way this is sort of maddening because we get these generalized warnings, but nothing specific," he said.

Lieutenant Schwartz says Miami's police force will do the best it can, focusing on the city's Bayfront Park, where tens of thousands of people gather every July 4 for an Independence Day parade and fireworks display.

"We will be doing bomb sweeps along parade routes and at venues before the party starts," Mr. Schwartz explained. "We'll check garbage cans and newspaper vending machines. Any suspicious vehicles, a suspicious car or truck, will be towed. We are going to have [officers patrolling], both in uniform and out of uniform. You will not even know if they are cops or not. They are going to be there."

It is not known whether security concerns will keep people away from major July 4 celebrations. Miami resident Tom Roper says he plans to take his family to a fireworks display in neighboring Broward County, but insists he has no fears about public safety. "I'll take my grandkids out to Sunrise and one of the fireworks displays up there," he said.

Haitian-American Jean Moises says he and his wife refuse to stay at home during the festivities. "We are not afraid," he said. "We are confident, not afraid. Nothing is going to stop us [from going out on July 4]."

Indeed, the biggest concern expressed by many south Floridians is not related to safety, but the weather. The region has endured three weeks of almost constant rain, with even more precipitation in the forecast for later in the week.