Thanksgiving parade marches, tall balloons and all

Susan Plaza, of Ozone Park, right applies makeup Susan Plaza, of Ozone Park, right applies makeup to her granddaughter, Viviana Valverde, of Westbury, and another Flowerpot Clown before the start of the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade in Manhattan. (Nov. 28, 2013) Photo Credit: Charles Eckert

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Despite powerful winds that had threatened to ground the beloved balloons for the first time in more than four decades, Snoopy, Hello Kitty, Pikachu and other iconic characters took flight Thursday, albeit at lower heights than usual, in Macy's 87th Thanksgiving Day Parade.

Emily Roca, 21, of Greenlawn, her two siblings and friends planted themselves at Columbus Circle, giving the group a bird's-eye view of the balloons as they marched south on Central Park West and turn onto 59th Street.

The strong winds nearly tossed a few helium balloons, including SpongeBob SquarePants, into a crowd of spectators, but handlers on the ground wrestled back control.

"We saw a couple of them that almost fell, which was kind of scary," Roca said. "I think it was smart of them to keep it down low rather than how they usually do it -- with the balloons up so high."

Considering that an estimated 3.5 million spectators were expected to line the 2.5-mile route, police said the parade took off with few reported incidents.

A balloon handler from Franklin Square was sent to the hospital after a vehicle behind "Toy Story" hero Buzz Lightyear ran over her foot about 10:30 a.m. at West 75th and Central Park West.

Keri O'Connell, 39, who has a fractured right foot, was treated at Roosevelt Hospital in Manhattan and released Thursday.

The Spider-Man balloon was stabbed in the left arm by a tree branch. With his left arm deflated, the 78-foot-long Spidey continued his march to finish the parade at Macy's headquarters at Herald Square.

Shortly after parade officials gave the go-ahead for the 16 signature balloons to lift off Thursday morning, NYPD Commissioner Ray Kelly said organizers thought after the balloons reached Sixth Avenue, they would be able to fly at their maximum heights.

Had sustained winds reached 23 mph and gusts exceeded 34 mph, the balloons would have been grounded by foul weather for the first time since 1971. Those rules have been in place since 1997, when strong winds caused a Cat in the Hat balloon to careen into a light pole and seriously injure a spectator.

Thursday, powerful winds kept them flying lower than their maximum heights throughout the parade.

"It would have been a little cooler if the balloons were flying higher," said Emily Roca's 14-year-old brother, Bailey Roca.

Nevertheless, Bailey was not disappointed that he awakened at 5:30 a.m. to make the trek into Manhattan and then waited for about two hours in the frigid cold before catching a glimpse of the giant balloons.

"It's worth it," he said, wearing two hats, lots of layers and a blanket. "It's pretty fun."

For her first visit to the Big Apple, Alex Werner, 23, from Queensland, Australia, was treated to what she described as one of the most spectacular events in America.

"I've seen this sort of things in movies. So, it's cool to actually see it in person," Werner said.

She captured plenty of photos, including Snoopy and Pikachu, her favorites, to show friends back home.

"I used to love Snoopy so much when I was a kid," she said.

Claudia Benitez, 18, of Westbury, got up at 3 a.m. Thursday and headed into Manhattan to be suited as a gnome.

Benitez did not mind getting up in the middle of the night for a second consecutive year to participate in the revelry with the "Springtime Clowns," a group of volunteers who hail mostly from Long Island.

"I just love watching all the people smiling," Benitez said. "I'm happy to do it even though it's cold."

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