Crowds fill downtown Raleigh for First Night celebration

RALEIGH (WTVD) -- Thousands packed Raleigh's Fayetteville Street New Year's Eve for the First Night Raleigh festivities and acorn drop.

The event was chock full of activities for everyone - of every age - starting with the rides.

First Night brings together artists of all kinds. They put on nearly 100 performances across the city, and concerts on the city plaza main stage.

While the older crowd rang in the New Year with the acorn drop at midnight - the younger crowd got to catch it at 7 p.m. - so they could get to bed early.

Meanwhile, partygoers at First Night Raleigh probably noticed more barriers and heavy law.

"It seems like there's a lot of officers out," said Erik Hasty, of Wake Forest. "I've been seeing patrolling the streets up and down both ends, so that's good."

It's no coincidence. In addition to police, event organizers with Artsplosure hired their own private security crew this year to keep watch inside the crowds.

"We think that First Night Raleigh is one of the safest places to be on New Year's Eve," said Jennie Lanning with Artsplosure.

The move came after rumblings on social media that bigger cities expected protests on New Year's Eve similar to recent demonstrations across the Triangle in the name of Michael Brown and Eric Garner, who were both killed during encounters with police.

Hattie Allen and a group of her friends told ABC11 that they were searching for a protest in downtown Raleigh.

"We have a right to let them know that it's a problem that needs to be addressed," said Allen.

But most just came to have a good time and celebrate the New Year. They joined revelers across the nation counting down to midnight and watched Raleigh's famous acorn descend from a crane to the crowd below to the accompaniment of a large fireworks display.

In New York, a million people crammed into Times Square and ushered in 2015 with cheers, hugs and kisses after the glittering New Year's Eve ball descended from high above and a ton of confetti wafted down onto revelers below.

Mayor Bill de Blasio, flanked by his wife and two children, pushed the ceremonial button that set the 11,875-pound Waterford crystal ball in motion. Merrymakers from around the world in pink foam hats waving pink balloons exchanged good wishes and danced as Frank Sinatra's "New York, New York" blared on loudspeakers.

With temperatures at about 30 degrees, partygoers were bundled up in parkas, fleece-lined hats and gloves. Security was tight and department officials said they had started planning for the event just hours after the clock struck midnight in 2014.

Thousands of officers were on scene, with rooftop patrols and police helicopters protecting the crowd, along with the bomb squad and a unit specializing in chemical and biological threats sweeping hotels, theaters, construction sites and parking garages. Plainclothes officers blended in while uniformed cops patrolled the streets.

Almost immediately, sanitation officials were beginning their massive cleanup effort, sending in 178 workers, 26 mechanical sweepers and 38 leaf blowers to remove noisemakers, confetti and paper streamers.

Last year workers removed 52.3 tons of debris.

Fireworks, light shows, music and other revelry also blazed around the globe from Australia and Asia, and through Europe.

Amid the revelry, however, there was also tragedy. In Shanghai, China, 35 people died and 43 were injured in a stampede during New Year's Eve celebrations shortly before midnight, government officials said, according to The Associated Press.

Elsewhere, however the shows went on, with drones capturing Sydney's New Year's light and fireworks show and LED lights on a skyscraper underpinning one of the evening's most lavish displays in Dubai.

In Toronto, revelers packed Nathan Phillips Square.

Fireworks lit up London, Paris, Moscow, and Istanbul.

Berlin's light show and fireworks focused on Brandenburg Gate, and were accompanied by Welsh opera singer Katherine Jenkins.

The spectacular display in Dubai focused on the 2,722-foot Burj Khalifa, the tallest building in the world, with more than 70,000 LED panels reaching nearly a half a mile into the sky.

Of course, in a city that last year set the Guinness World Record for world's largest firework display, there were plenty of pyrotechnics, too.

Even the hermit nation of North Korea got in on the action.

Hong Kong, Taiwan, Sydney, and New Zealand got early starts.

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