NEW YORK (AP) – Revelers have begun to fill New York City’s Times Square in the hours before the midnight ball drop, resolving to celebrate New Year’s Eve despite headlines of extremist attacks around the world and a heavy security presence.
The first hardy partygoers eager to ring in 2016 arrived in the famed Manhattan intersection before dawn, content to camp in place until the 11,875-pound Waterford crystal ball drops to officially welcome the New Year to the nation’s largest city.
An estimated 1 million people are expected to fill the square, and they will be protected by an armada of 6,000 police officers – some in civilian clothes, many heavily armed – as well as rigid security screenings around the perimeter of the party.
But some in the crowd were jittery, admitting to being nervous to gather in such a famous location in the weeks after the Paris and San Bernardino attacks. Just hours earlier Thursday, an ex-con was arrested in upstate New York for planning to carry out a New Year’s Eve attack at a bar to prove he was worthy of joining the Islamic State terror group.
Ashley Watters, 18, a freshman at Temple University hailing from Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, called the threat of terrorism “the elephant in the room.”
“I talked to my Dad before I left and said ‘I love you and hopefully ISIS doesn’t come,'” said Watters. “My dad said, ‘Keep your eyes out.’ He feels the same way, you can’t live in fear. I’m not going to miss out on an opportunity.”
Others were heartened by the massive security presence, which led Mayor Bill de Blasio – who will push the button to send the ball on its minute-long descent at 11:59 p.m. – and his police team to declare the city will be “the safest place in the world to be” on New Year’s Eve.
“There are places that are less secure than here with a million people,” said Anthony Martins, 26, a strength and conditioning coach from Lille, France, who said the long security lines were “frustrating, but we know it’s essential for us, so it’s OK.”
Police officials have acknowledged that there were limits to what they could do to ensure security, especially outside the tightly controlled blocks at the heart of the celebration.
The party to send off 2015 will feature musical acts – including Demi Lovato and Carrie Underwood – fireworks, confetti and temperatures that, to the relief of the bundled-up spectators, are excepted to stay well above freezing.