- The Washington Times - Friday, December 31, 2004

The United States joined other countries worldwide yesterday in mourning those killed in the earthquake and tsunami in South Asia before ringing in the new year.

In New York, there was a moment of silence in Times Square at 8:15 p.m. to remember the victims — at least 121,000 dead so far and countless injured.

“I think we all have to look in the mirror tonight before we go to bed and recognize just how lucky we are and that not everyone else is so lucky,” Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg said yesterday. New York marked its 100th year celebrating New Year’s Eve in Times Square.

Mr. Bloomberg said he believed the revelers could enjoy themselves while also remembering the dead.

“I think human beings are able to handle multiple emotions at the same time,” he said on CBS-TV’s “The Early Show.” “We have to look forward with optimism to next year. You can also at the same time have prayers for those who were lost.”

Many of the revelers said the South Asian tragedy would be on their minds.

“You still have to remember what’s going on in the world because it affects everybody and it should affect the celebration,” said Chris Lawrence, 21, of Newburgh, N.Y.

Outgoing Secretary of State Colin L. Powell, a native New Yorker, was invited to press the button at 11:59 p.m. that sent the 1,000-pound Waterford crystal-covered ball on its final 60-second descent into the new year.

For the first time in 32 years, the celebration took place without Dick Clark, the TV personality-producer who is recovering from a stroke. The daytime talk-show host Regis Philbin filled in for the 75-year-old Mr. Clark on ABC-TV’s “New Year’s Rockin’ Eve.”

In New York, as in recent years, police boats, helicopters, bomb squads and thousands of officers were on duty, and officers armed with radiation detectors and bomb-sniffing dogs patrolled Times Square.

Elsewhere in the world, the New Year’s Eve celebrations were either marked with a similar moment of silence, toned down in scope or replaced with prayers for the dead.

For Sweden’s prime minister, celebrating New Year’s after the Asian tsunami felt “completely wrong.” Paris draped black cloth along a favorite haunt for romantic reveling — the Champs-Elysees.

Even for those far from Asian and African shores where the giant waves killed at least 121,000, the disaster was too overwhelming, too present for a carefree leap into 2005.

In Europe, thousands of families were struggling with the loss of loved ones and friends. The confirmed death tolls for many European countries were in the double digits, but many officials were warning the final tallies would be in the hundreds or even thousands. For Sweden alone, 2,500 tourists were still missing, while Switzerland was waiting to hear from about 700 and the French reported at least 118 disappeared.

“Never has the step into a new year felt heavier,” said Prime Minister Goran Persson, who urged Swedes to light candles in their windows as a vigil. “We should have celebrated with fireworks and festivities. Now that feels completely wrong.”

Many of the estimated 1 million revelers around the glittering, fireworks-illuminated harbor in Sydney, Australia, marked a moment of silence for victims.

“You could tell people were a little more reverent tonight; it was kept in people’s thoughts,” British tourist Mark Stiles said yesterday.

Stores in major German cities said sales of fireworks were down, in some instances by a third. Some retailers attributed the restraint to appeals from Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder and others for Germans to donate money they usually lavish on pyrotechnics.

Germany’s main celebration at the Brandenburg Gate in Berlin was going ahead, but the revelers were urged on big screens to donate to UNICEF. TV stations turned their New Year’s Eve galas into charity events for tsunami victims.

Chancellor Wolfgang Schuessel of Austria also urged people to forgo fireworks, and Innsbruck canceled its display in a silent vigil for 40 residents of the western Austrian province of Tyrol who remain missing in Asia.

Revelers in London were asked to observe two minutes of silence shortly before the stroke of midnight.

The 480 cottony, scarflike strips of black cloth hung along Paris’ Champs-Elysees and on light posts at the nearby Place de la Concorde were a deliberately discreet but poignant gesture to victims.

“This night cannot be ordinary because of this mourning affecting the entire planet,” Deputy Mayor Anne Hidalgo said.

Parisians still stocked up on champagne and foie gras for feasting, but said the tragedy weighed on their minds.

“Our hearts will be in it a little less this year, when we think about all the victims,” said Marie-Caroline Lagache, 34. “It’s going to be a New Year’s Eve that’s a bit more lifeless.”

Many Asians were too busy counting the dead, feeding survivors and combating disease to even think about celebrating 2005.

Most government agencies in Indonesia, where the death toll was by far the largest, canceled fireworks and urged people to pray. President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono said: “Let’s welcome the new year without a party because now we are filled with concern and sadness.

“We are still mourning. Let’s pray together and hopefully God will not give us another disaster.”

Thailand, with thousands dead, canceled a countdown party in Bangkok that was to have featured Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra and tennis stars Maria Sharapova and Venus Williams. Officials urged people to attend religious services instead.

On southern Thailand’s tsunami-ravaged Phuket island, Rene Vander Veen, from Waiblingen, Germany, said: “Too many people died here. I cannot celebrate new year.”

China’s state-run CCTV broadcaster announced the cancellation of its live New Year’s Eve gala programming.

But celebrations went ahead unaffected in Taiwan. The Philippines, which escaped the tsunami, also was in celebratory mood, with fireworks and gunfire before midnight.

Hundreds of thousands of Malaysians flocked to mosques, temples and churches for special prayers. Government officials in the mostly Muslim country banned firework displays and canceled public concerts and celebrations in mourning for dozens of Malaysians confirmed killed.

Hotels and clubs in most Indian cities, except those in Madras, the capital of southern Tamil Nadu state where tsunamis claimed thousands of lives, were going ahead with celebrations, although some toned down programs and others decided to donate part of the money raised for relief work.

Copyright © 2018 The Washington Times, LLC. Click here for reprint permission.

The Washington Times Comment Policy

The Washington Times welcomes your comments on Spot.im, our third-party provider. Please read our Comment Policy before commenting.


Click to Read More and View Comments

Click to Hide