- The Washington Times - Monday, July 4, 2011

Parades, fireworks and celebrations large and small across the region largely went off as planned Monday, dodging the threat of thunderstorms that created so much havoc earlier in the holiday weekend.

Thousands of visitors began filing onto the Mall by morning for the Smithsonian Folklife Festival, and the annual fireworks display at dusk went off amid heavy security. A thunderstorm caused the evacuation of the Mall on Sunday night as strong winds blew apart trees and heavy rain chased away hundreds who had arrived for the Folklife Festival concert and rehearsal for the Capitol Fourth concert, both of which were canceled.

At the White House - where President Obama and first lady Michelle Obama hosted a barbecue for 1,200 members of the military and their families and celebrated daughter Malia’s 13th birthday - a walkway had to be cordoned off because of a damaged tree that threatened to fall.

“America is proud of all of you,” Mr. Obama told his military guests at the evening celebration, which included performances by the rock band Train, the U.S. Marine Band and singer-songwriter Amos Lee.

By midday, crews had cleared most of the storm debris for the hundreds of thousands of visitors expected in the District, particularly the Mall, which hosted multiple festivals and is a prime viewing spot for the 17-minute firework show, which began blasting off just after 9:15.

For the 10th year in a row, LaFollette, Tenn.-based Pyro Shows provided the fireworks. Col. Tom Steiner said the show was to include about 14,000 pounds of explosives and that the grand finale was to include 1,000 fireworks ignited in 30 seconds.

Toting books, snacks and a deck of cards, Clifton resident Mary Johnson waited Monday afternoon for her friends and family to return to their spot in the middle of the Mall.

She said friends from Michigan were in town, and after catching the District’s July Fourth parade and the tail end of a National Archives’ reading of the Declaration of Independence, the group made its way to the Mall to claim its spot, rotating someone to watch the chairs and blanket while the others explored the museums that were open and the festivals.

“We had a lot of bottled water, but we’ve gone through it in the first few hours,” Ms. Johnson said. “It’s fine. It’s the Fourth of July.”

Police agencies and D.C. fire department officials said a few people were treated for heat-related illnesses early in the day but reported no major injuries or incidents.

Elsewhere around the country, Americans celebrated the Fourth in traditional and more dramatic ways.

Wearing Hawaiian shirts and shorts, some people skied the still-snowy slopes at resorts from California to Colorado.

In Akron, Ohio, the Rib, White & Blue Food Festival was enticing. And on New York’s Coney Island, the annual Nathan’s Famous hot dog-eating contest brought out the biggest names in competitive consumption.

Joey “Jaws” Chestnut, of San Jose, Calif., wolfed down 62 hot dogs and buns during the 10-minute contest, winning his fifth straight title. Sonya “the Black Widow” Thomas of Alexandria chowed her way to victory in the first-ever women-only contest, eating 40 hot dogs, one shy of her 2009 total.

At the mountaintop home of Thomas Jefferson in Charlottesville, Va., officials continued a nearly five-decade-old tradition of swearing in new U.S. citizens. Seventy-seven people took their oaths during a naturalization ceremony at Monticello.

All day long in Washington, the mood on the Mall was a celebratory one.

Music from Indian drums and sitars at the Hare Krishna Festival blended with the rock ‘n’ roll coming from Freedom Fest DC and rhythm and blues at the Smithsonian Folklife Festival.

Metro had its rail cars running on rush-hour service and reported 285,675 riders as of 6 p.m. - about 6 percent less than at the same time last year.

Spokesmen Dan Stessel said the threatening weather and Tuesday being a workday contributed to the slightly lower numbers.

Lounging under a tree near the Capitol Reflecting Pool, Abel and Jennifer Quintero from Defiance, Ohio, said this was their first July Fourth in the District.

The parents and their four children took Metro’s Orange Line from Vienna early Monday morning so they could be one of the first groups in line for the Capitol Fourth concert on the West Lawn of the Capitol.

“It’s hot, but it was much worse yesterday,” said Mrs. Quintero, who with her family waited for three hours Sunday to get on the Mall for a concert.

This article is based in part on wire service reports.

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