New York's Thanksgiving parade expected to draw huge crowd despite security jitters

Members of the New York Police Department's Emergency Service Unit stand guard before the 89th Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade.
Members of the New York Police Department's Emergency Service Unit stand guard before the 89th Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade.PHOTO: REUTERS
New York City Mayor Bill De Blasio (centre) talks to the media in front of the balloons during the Macy's 89th Annual Thanksgiving Day Parade in New York City, Nov 25, 2015.
New York City Mayor Bill De Blasio (centre) talks to the media in front of the balloons during the Macy's 89th Annual Thanksgiving Day Parade in New York City, Nov 25, 2015. PHOTO: EPA

NEW YORK (Reuters) - Onlookers crowded Manhattan sidewalks and rooftops on Thursday (Nov 26) to glimpse the marching bands, floats and massive balloons of Macy's annual Thanksgiving Day Parade, held under tight security two weeks after deadly attacks in Paris.

New York officials said about 3.5 million spectators would turn out for the city's signature parade, in its 89th year. They urged residents and visitors to carry on with holiday plans, saying there were no credible threats to the most populous US city.

Jacqueline Williams, 52, of Atlanta, said the Nov 13 Paris attacks in which 130 died were in the back of her mind as she attended the parade for the first time. Islamic State militants have claimed responsibility for the assault.

"We live in a society of being fearful. But it's almost like you can't be, because whatever's going to happen is going to happen, you can't stop it," said Williams, an insurance agent and realtor, who was accompanied by her son San, a 21-year-old student.

Police officers guarded subway entrances under mostly sunny skies. They also were scattered through the crowd lined up 20 deep.

Police Commissioner William Bratton said on Wednesday that attending the parade with its giant helium balloons of Snoopy, Hello Kitty and dozens of other characters was a way to fight international events that were designed to foment fear.

The New York Police Department is ramping up parade security, adding members of a new counter-terrorism unit, officials said.

About 50 million people worldwide were expected to watch the televised parade that snakes through 2.5 miles(4 km) of Manhattan. The show ushers in the holiday season and the busiest U.S. travel time.

President Barack Obama sought to reassure Americans on Wednesday they were safe to take to roads, trains and planes over the holiday.

A Reuters-Ipsos poll shows Americans have become more concerned about threats since the Paris attacks and identified terrorism as the most important problem facing the nation.

Eric Blanc, 44, a logistics expert from Marseilles, France, said the prospect of an attack had not crossed his mind or those of three French friends he was traveling with. "There's lots of security here and we feel safe," he said.

New York Mayor Bill de Blasio said on Wednesday police had fine-tuned their response to a possible strike since the Sept 11, 2001, attacks in which the World Trade Center was toppled by two hijacked airliners.