Thursday, December 31, 2009

New Year's revelers have a blast

CNN-The New Year got under way with blasting horns and fireworks shot from the Sky Tower as revelers partied Friday morning in Auckland, New Zealand.

Similar celebrations were moving like a wave from east to west as midnight struck across the globe, starting at the International Date Line in the mid-Pacific Ocean.

Throngs danced to pounding rock 'n' roll music and cheered a spectacular 12-minute fireworks display over the picturesque Sydney Harbour Bridge in Australia. A giant bell was rung before a huge crowd in Seoul, South Korea.

In New York, security promised to be tight for Thursday night's traditional celebration in Times Square. After the Christmas Day attempt to blow up a Northwest Airlines plane over Detroit, Michigan, security forces are on high alert.

"We want people to have a happy experience. But we are also concerned about a terrorist event. We have to do that after 9/11," New York Police Commissioner Ray Kelly said.

As happens every year, police are searching garages and subway tunnels for bombs, trash cans are being removed, and mailboxes and manhole covers are being sealed. Detectives were asking hotel and restaurant personnel if they had noticed any suspicious people or activity, and radiation detectors and bomb-sniffing dogs were being deployed.

Snow was falling on the square Thursday morning.

See images from Times Square

On Wednesday, a search of a suspicious van led to a partial evacuation of Times Square and the Nasdaq building, but the van turned out to pose no threat.

In the years before terrorism was a concern inside the United States, the Times Square celebration was a rowdy affair, fueled by copious amounts of alcohol, often transported via backpack. Today, alcohol and backpacks are banned from the area on New Year's Eve, and revelers are herded into 2,500-person pens, but the mood is festive nonetheless.

New Yorker Julio Ortiz-Teissonniere, a CNN iReporter, said he's too jaded to take part in the spectacle, but that wasn't always the case.

"When the ball drops, it's like an earthquake," he said. "The amount of people screaming and stomping -- it's amazing."

It's a tense time for police.

"When the ball drops, you get a feeling of relief that you made it through another year," Kelly said.