published Tuesday, December 31st, 2013

Revelers start ringing in 2014 with fireworks

  • photo
    Fireworks explode over the Harbour Bridge and the Opera House during New Year's Eve celebrations in Sydney, Australia, Wednesday, Jan. 1, 2014.
    Photo by Associated Press /Chattanooga Times Free Press.

CANBERRA, Australia — Exploding fireworks sprayed from the sails of the Sydney Opera House and the Australian city's harbor bridge at midnight Tuesday as the world ushered in a new year.

More than 1 million people crammed the Sydney Harbor foreshore on a warm summer night to watch the pyrotechnics show that appeared to live up to its billing as the most extravagant of Sydney's already renowned annual display. Dubai will later try to create the world's largest fireworks show to ring in 2014. Revelers heading to New York City's Times Square could expect the annual ball drop, the hefty police presence but no mayor this year. The new year will instead be rung in by U.S. Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor.

Closer to the edge of the International Dateline, New Zealand bid farewell to 2013 with fireworks erupting from Auckland's Sky Tower as cheering revelers danced in the streets of the South Pacific island nation's largest city.

Dubai is known for glitz, glamor and over-the-top achievements like the world's tallest tower, and this year it plans to break another record by creating the largest fireworks show ever.

Organizers plan to light up the city's coastline with a flying falcon made out of fireworks that moves across a massive man-made palm-shaped island alongside a countdown in fireworks. Organizers say they will also create a burst of light out of fireworks to imitate a sunrise and dazzle spectators with a United Arab Emirates flag that could also break records for being the largest ever made out of fireworks.

The 6-minute extravaganza will include 500,000 fireworks from 400 firing locations, all synchronized by 100 computers from stations across the city, said Barrett Wissman, co-chairman of IMG Artists that is managing the event. Guinness World Record officials will be on hand to measure the scale of the event.

Wissman said the display will cover 30 miles (48 kilometers) of seafront. "It is really mind-blowing, the size of this," he said.

In Australia, fireworks launched from four sails of the Sydney Opera House for the first time in more than a decade. The Sydney Harbor Bridge was also illuminated by fireworks shooting skyward and raining from its decks to the water below.

Organizers had expected 1.6 million people would line the harbor shores to watch 7 metric tons (7.7 U.S. tons) of pyrotechnics explode in 12 seconds. The estimate appeared accurate.

Mona Rucek, a 28-year-old tourist from Munich, Germany, was impressed by the display.

"It filled up the whole sky. It's really, really nice," she said on the Sydney waterside.

In Tokyo, five priests at the Zojoji temple used ropes to swing a wooden pole against a large bell, sounding the first of 108 gongs to mark the new year. Simultaneously, "2014" lit up in white lights on the modern Tokyo Tower in the background.

Both Japanese and tourists jammed the temple grounds for the traditional ceremony. Suburban resident Juji Muto said he was curious to hear how the bell sounded. At his age, the 75-year-old retiree said he wishes as every year for good health in the new year.

China planned light shows at part of the Great Wall near Beijing and at the Bund waterfront in Shanghai. The city of Wuhan in central Hubei province called off its fireworks show and banned fireworks downtown to avoid worsening its smoggy air.

In Beijing, one flower shop manager said he hoped the new year brought more customers.

"Since the government started its campaign to crack down on luxury spending and promote frugality, our business with government agencies has been in decline," said Mao Xiangfei. "In the past, government clients accounted for about 10 percent of our business, but now it's zero."

In the Philippines, more than 260 people had been injured by firecracker blasts and celebratory gunfire ahead of New Year's Eve celebrations, one of Asia's most violent revelries.

Department of Health spokesman Dr. Eric Tayag said he expected the number of injuries to rise sharply when Filipinos ignite powerful firecrackers to end a year marked by tragic disasters, including a Nov. 8 typhoon that left more than 6,100 dead and nearly 1,800 others missing.

"Many here are welcoming the new year after losing their mothers, fathers, siblings and children so you can imagine how it feels," said village chief Maria Rosario Bactol of Anibong community in Tacloban, the city worst hit by Typhoon Haiyan. "I tell them to face the reality, to move on and stand up, but I know it will never be easy."

In North Korea, a group of tourists, including Americans, planned to watch fireworks in Kim Il Sung Square and watch the Pyongyang Bell strike midnight, said Andrea Lee, CEO of Uritours, a tour group specializing in travel to North Korea.

"There were a lot of people out on the streets today for an outdoor dance event, and cars filled the streets," Lee said.

In Hong Kong, tens of thousands of people turned out to watch the fireworks display over the southern Chinese city's famed Victoria Harbor.

Pyrotechnics were fired near the Kowloon peninsula and from the tops of seven skyscrapers on Hong Kong Island. A British colonial-era canon was fired at midnight in a tradition dating from the end of World War II.

In Indonesia, New Year's celebrations are widespread except in the city of Banda Aceh where Islamic clerics prohibit Muslims from celebrating New Year's Eve.

In the capital, Jakarta, tourism authorities estimate 2 million people will take part in street parties in 162 locations.

In New York City, outgoing Mayor Michael Bloomberg, who hobnobbed with celebrities during past Times Square celebrations, is sitting out this year's festivities to spend time with family and friends. Mayor-elect Bill de Blasio will be sworn into office at 12:01 a.m. Wednesday at his Brooklyn home.

Sotomayor, a New York City native, will lead the final 60-second countdown and push the ceremonial button to signal the descent of the Times Square New Year's Eve ball in front of an estimated 1 million celebrants.

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