January 1, 2006

US welcomes 2006 from New York to New Orleans

By Chris Michaud

NEW YORK (Reuters) - Huge crowds braved tight security and
cold, rainy weather to usher in New Year's on Sunday in
celebrations at New York's Times Square marked by the return of
veteran television host Dick Clark.

The arrival of 2006 was also cheered in New Orleans, the
historic Gulf Coast city devastated by Hurricane Katrina last
August. Thousands of revelers packed the French Quarter to
listen to music by Arlo Guthrie and bid good riddance to a year
the city was not likely to forget.

Clark, battling back from a stroke that forced him to miss
last year's show, returned to his longtime perch as host of his
live "New Year's Rockin' Eve" show, which he started in 1972.

"It's real good to be back with you again this year,"
Clark, 76, once known for his perpetually youthful appearance,
said in a halting, slightly hoarse voice as he came on the ABC
program about 11:35 p.m.

"Last year I had a stroke. It left me in bad shape. I had
to teach myself how to walk and talk all over again. It was a
long hard fight. My speech is not perfect but I'm getting
there," said Clark.

He added after the giant crystal ball dropped at the stroke
of midnight to usher in 2006: "There's nothing like being in
Times Square on New Year's Eve. Believe me, this is one night I
will never, ever forget."

Clark, who rose to fame as host of the long-running
"American Bandstand" show, had been out of the public eye since
falling ill in December 2004.

Police had said they expected about 1 million people to
attend the 101st New Year's celebration in Times Square.
Revelers came from across the United States and began arriving
on Saturday morning to stake out prime spots so they could
watch the ball lowered at midnight to ring in the new year.


"They said this wasn't gonna happen," New Orleans Mayor Ray
Nagin shouted to a cheering New Year's Eve throng at a concert
outside Jackson Square. "They said New Orleans was dead. But we
proved them wrong. New Orleans is alive and well."

The first New Year's celebration in the city since Katrina
ravaged the Gulf Coast was smaller than usual. Only about one
in four residents, by some counts, have returned to the
storm-wrecked city, and few tourists have ventured back.

The mood was jubilant as Nagin ticked off the final seconds
of 2005. At midnight, a replica of a gumbo pot decorated with
New Orleans symbols, including a bottle of hot sauce and a
French Quarter street sign, slid down a 25-foot (8-meter) pole
atop Jackson Brewery.

"I'm so excited about leaving 2005 behind, y'all just don't
know," Nagin said.

In New York, security was a main concern amid the festive
atmosphere, although Mayor Michael Bloomberg had said there
were no specific threats against the city.

Police officers led bomb-sniffing dogs throughout the party
zone, while biochemical hazard teams and decontamination
centers were on standby in case of attack. A mobile laboratory
was on hand to test the air for suspicious substances.

Metal detectors were used to check the revelers and large
bags and backpacks were banned from the area. Snipers were
deployed on rooftops, while helicopters circled the area and
police patrolled the city's waterways on boats.

The celebrants had to endure temperatures in the mid-30s F
(1-2 C), as well as rain and wet snow.

Bloomberg was among those welcoming back Clark to the
city's New Year's festivities.

"It just would not be New Year's Eve without Dick Clark,"
Bloomberg said on the ABC program moments before Clark's
introduction. "I know I speak for all New Yorkers and all
Americans -- Dick, we love you."

(Additional reporting by Russell McCulley in New Orleans,
Christine Kearney in New York, Steve Gorman in Los Angeles,
Tabassum Zakaria in Crawford, Texas)