NEW YORK — Nearly a million U.S. revelers have cheered the traditional ball drop in New York's Times Square to mark the start of 2011.
A Times Square crowd estimated at up to a million people hollered as a ball with 32,000 lights descended in the run-up to midnight. The celebration took place just days after a blizzard paralyzed the city and months after a failed car bombing.
Computer engineer Chris Tulloch, who came from upstate New York with his wife, Sherine, to experience Times Square for the first time, said the celebration was a good start for the new year.
"The amount of people in the crowd, the friendships that we formed, made us realize so many people have the same hopes and dreams for 2011 as we do," he said.
All around the United States, people said they were setting aside concerns about the economy, bad winter weather and even potential terrorist threats to ring in 2011 at large and small gatherings.
Even more than most years, New York was in the spotlight as it battled back from a severe snowstorm and security concerns eight months after a Pakistani immigrant tried to detonate a car bomb in Times Square. Police said the city wasn't the target of a New Year's Eve terror threat, but they had a strict security plan in place, with sealed manhole covers, counter-snipers on rooftops and checkpoints for partygoers.Video: NYC tightens security in Times Square, beyond (on this page)
Mayor Michael Bloomberg has endured days of withering criticism for the city's slow response to the Dec. 26 storm, which dumped 20 inches of snow. But the president of the Times Square Alliance said holiday tourists helped clear streets.
"We have the best snow plow ever invented — 500,000 pairs of feet walking through Times Square," Tim Tompkins said. "That's been melting our snow."
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Miami residents Rodrigo and Maria Lequerich brought their family to New York at the urging of their 13-year daughter, Maria Sophia.
"I saw it on TV all the time and I really wanted to be there in person this time," Maria Sophia said, adding she was looking forward to seeing a performance by Kesha, the event's top musical draw.
Sisters-in-law Jessie Carbajal, 41, and Anne Gagarin, 53 of Ventura, Calif., were making their first visit to New York. They arrived early to stake out a prime spot on 42nd Street. "We are going to stay here until we see that ball drop," Carbajal said.
Elsewhere, heavy snow was forecast in the Great Plains and rain in some midwestern states was expected to dampen some festivities. But holiday weather appeared relatively clear in California, which has been soaked by record winter rainfall, and along the snow-socked Northeast corridor.
Below's a roundup of some activities in other cities.
City officials were expecting unseasonably warm temperatures which reached the 50s during the day to draw a robust crowd to Navy Pier for two fireworks shows but won't deploy any more resources than normal. The city is offering penny fares for public transit.
Marry Corrigan, a teacher from Fort Myers, Fla., traveled to Chicago to meet her daughters and stay in a downtown hotel. Their plans were to watch the midnight fireworks display at the Navy Pier.
Last year, after also scaling back on Christmas gifts, she opted for a low-key celebration at a bar in Fort Myers, Fla.
"I wouldn't be here if the economy wasn't good," said Corrigan, an eighth-grade teacher.
A 19-year-old Somali-born man is accused of plotting to kill thousands gathered downtown last month for a Christmas tree lighting, police said no New Year's plans were being scaled back. The city hasn't hosted a downtown New Year's celebration since 2001, when partiers got out of hand and a few vandals smashed windows at nearby shops.
"Your standard bar and club parties will be going on," Sgt. Pete Simpson said. "It's just not an outdoor thing here."
Travel difficulties and security concerns didn't deter New Year's enthusiasm in Southern California, where the biggest party is always Pasadena's Rose Parade and Rose Bowl football game. Tens of thousands gathered for pep rallies in Pasadena and at the historic Santa Monica Pier.
Temperatures were forecast to fall to the high 20s by midnight, nearly 320,000 partiers were expected to hit the famed Strip, with celebrity musicians Jay-Z and Coldplay scheduled to perform a private show broadcast to the street from the marquee of the Cosmopolitan of Las Vegas casino. Other warm and party-friendly cities like New Orleans, Miami and Atlanta also planned large celebrations.
Michelle Lawrence of Underground Atlanta, which organizes that city's annual Peach Drop, said the event typically draws about 100,000 people over 17 hours of New Year's events. The evening will include live music, a carnival and stores open late, she said. Visitors carrying alcohol, weapons, pets or lawn chairs would not be allowed in, Lawrence said.
Christy Maes, a 29-year old Chicago resident, had planned to visit Canada for New Year's but headed to Atlanta instead to avoid bad weather.
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"We hadn't seen Atlanta before, and it's a good time to come South because of the weather," Maes said. "It's warmer here. Not warm, but warmer."
Reality show star Nicole "Snooki" Polizzi was getting into the holiday spirit. At midnight, to mimic the New York ball drop, MTV planned to air a drop of "Jersey Shore" star in a gaudy globe in Seaside Heights, the shore town where the show is set.
In New York, Host Ryan Seacrest and other celebrities were headlining the Times Square event. Singer Fergie of the Black Eyed Peas was the top draw for the Los Angeles portion of the show.
The Times Square ball, made of Waterford Crystal and 12 feet in diameter, weighs almost 6 tons and holds more than 32,000 LED lights.
Each year, the ball is redesigned with new crystal panels — 2,669 for the 2011 sphere graced with an interlocking heart motif cut for maximum sparkle and refraction.
The ball is assembled in the basement of the Times Square building from which it drops, by a crew of about a dozen people including engineers and computer technicians.
"It's a massive operation," said Jim O'Leary, Waterford Crystal's worldwide design director.
O'Leary said he had chosen "Let There Be Love" as the theme for this year's Times Square celebration.
"It's very apropos of what's going on in the world today, with all the trouble and strife, the economic recession — the whole bit," he said. "At least we can love each other; there will always be love."
Associated Press writers Verena Dobnik and Stephanie Nano in New York, Michael R. Blood in Los Angeles, Sophia Tareen in Chicago, Dorie Turner in Atlanta, Tim Fought in Portland, Ore., and Geoff Mulvihill in Trenton, N.J., contributed to this report.
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