IMAGE: BALLOON THAT HIT POLE
Jeff Christensen  /  AP
A balloon lies on the street after it hit a light pole, showering debris on two people during the Macy's Thanksgiving Day parade in New York.
NBC, msnbc.com and news services
updated 11/24/2005 5:03:54 PM ET 2005-11-24T22:03:54

After a morning with few major travel problems reported, Americans settled in for a Thanksgiving weekend that began with parades and President Bush calling soldiers stationed around the globe.

“He thanked all of them on behalf of the American people for their service,” said White House spokeswoman Dana Perino. “He said all of them were patriots. He’s very proud of them and thankful for them.”

The president called 10 members of the Coast Guard, Marines, Navy, Air Force and Army  before sitting down for dinner with his family at their ranch in Crawford, Texas.

The Bush menu was roasted free-range turkey, fresh-milled cornbread dressing, pan gravy, chipotle maple whipped sweet potatoes, roasted asparagus and red peppers, green beans supreme, fruit ambrosia, fresh yeast rolls and orange cranberry relish. Dessert was two kinds of pie — Texas pecan and pumpkin.

Talking to troops has been a tradition for Bush on Thanksgiving. He often makes such phone calls, but in 2003 he went further, surprising soldiers serving in Baghdad by showing up unannounced in their mess hall for the holiday meal.

The White House did not release the names of those the president called this year, but said at least one was serving in Afghanistan, one was in Iraq and one was on a ship at sea. The names were selected by the Defense Department.

Two hurt in N.Y. parade
In New York City, officials nearly grounded the giant balloons in the annual Thanksgiving Day parade because of gusty weather.

Two spectators were later injured by a balloon, and it appeared wind was a factor.

The accident happened near the end of the parade when the balloon’s tethers became entangled on the head of the street lamp, about 2½ feet in diameter, and knocked it off.

A 26-year-old woman and 11-year-old girl were hit by the debris. The girl was treated in an emergency room for minor scrapes on the side of her head. The woman, who was in a wheelchair, needed six stitches for a cut on the back of her head and was expected to be in the hospital overnight.

“It happened so fast,” said parade spectator Karim Simmons, of Queens. “I said, ‘Oh, my God!’ It dropped like a rock.”

The crew handling the balloon was apparently trying to correct its course after a gust when it became entangled with the light, Mayor Michael Bloomberg said. The National Weather Service said the wind speed in Central Park at 11 a.m. was 10 mph, with gusts topping out at 21 mph.

The circumstances were an echo of a 1997 accident, when a woman was critically injured when 45 mph winds forced a balloon into a metal pole on Central Park West.

Officials then set guidelines that would limit the use of balloons if wind threatened to be too strong.

Parade organizers were given the go-ahead to use the balloons this year, but ordered them tethered on shorter lines because of some moderate breezes at the parade’s start.

This year’s parade featured 10 marching bands, 27 floats and performers such as LeAnn Rimes, Aaron Neville and Kristin Chenoweth.

The Macy's parade started in 1924 and has been an annual tradition, canceled only in the World War Two years of 1942 to 1944.

A day earlier, New York was treated to a turkey-eating contest won by Sonya Thomas, a 100-pound woman from Alexandria, Va., who finished second last July 4th in the annual Nathan’s hot dog contest.

In 12 minutes, Thomas ate four pounds, three-point-one ounces of bird, which won her the $2,500 first prize.


Snow and ice in parts
Traffic at airports and on highways moved smoothly for the most part across the country, but the Northeast saw a few problems.

Snowy and wet conditions caused backups on roads outside Boston, though air and train travel generally has been smooth.

In New Hampshire, people woke up to falling snow, and the National Weather Service has issued a winter weather advisory for the state. Some areas could get up to seven inches.

Two inches of snow in Rhode Island blanketed highways and delayed flights at an airport in Warwick. State Police counted a handful of road accidents and no backups.

And snow and blowing winds have caused road conditions to worsen in western Pennsylvania, where a ten-mile stretch of Interstate 80 was closed after a multi-vehicle accident.

Winds will average 15-25 mph with gusts of up to 50 mph in Pennsylvania, New Jersey, and New York on Thursday, the private forecaster AccuWeather said in its daily report.

Northeast highs will only be in the 30s and lower 40s, and will drop quickly during the evening, AccuWeather said.

Detroit and Chicago were seeing even colder weather, with temperatures in the high teens.

Any wet roads will quickly freeze overnight, AccuWeather added.

More snow and even squalls were forecast across Michigan, northern Ohio and northwestern Indiana.

Cleveland could see the most snow of any city, with predictions of 6-12 inches by Friday, said NBC Weather Plus meteorologist Jackie Meretsky.

Snowy and icy weather meant drivers in the Great Lakes area and northern New England have had to be especially careful; hundreds of accidents were reported from Minnesota to Indiana to Maine on Wednesday. A winter storm warning in parts of Michigan forecast up to a foot of lake-effect snow and winds of more than 35 mph.

“It doesn’t matter if you have a half-inch of snow, people can slide on it, the first snow of the year,” said forecaster Bill Simpson in Taunton, Mass.

Weather mild elsewhere
Conditions in the rest of the country were expected to be mild: slightly cooler in the Midwest, warm from south Texas to Southern California and sunny across the Rockies.

The Pacific Northwest was expecting rain by late Thursday as a cold front moves in.

On Wednesday, New York and Chicago airports saw a few delays during the day but overall air travel went smoothly.

The Air Transport Association predicted 21.7 million people would fly globally on U.S. airlines from Nov. 19 to Nov. 29, slightly more than last year’s record number.

AAA said more than 37 million people would travel at least 50 miles from home during the long holiday weekend, and that about 31 million of them would travel by car. The association, citing a telephone survey, said the number of Thanksgiving travelers would be up 0.8 percent from last year.

Cheaper gas helps
It helped that gasoline prices in many areas had dropped to about what motorists were paying before Hurricane Katrina hit.

Wanzetta Dan said that after staying home for a month to save on gas money, she was glad to see lower prices along Interstate 35 as she began driving from Dallas to her mother’s home in Oklahoma.

“That put a smile on my face,” Dan said. “It’s going to be better, because now the money I was going to be spending on gas, I can spend on gifts.”

Pam Grey, 52, of West Hollywood, opted for the train instead of her car to travel.

“The car is taking a little rest,” Grey said. “I really don’t want to drive on the highway right now.”

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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