What was supposed to be a joyous birthday celebration turned into a long night of nail-biting for three Long Island teens who were caught in the middle of Saturday night's turmoil in Times Square.

Carle Place friends Christina Paiva, 16, Sabrina Papez, 17 and Susana Garrido, 18, decided to go into New York City to celebrate Paiva's upcoming 17th birthday. The plan was to grab dinner at Applebee's on 42nd St. and head to M&M's World on Broadway and 48th Street.

But when they left Applebee's just before 7 p.m., they found themselves blocked by police barricades set up on 45th Street. Curious about the buzz around them, the girls stayed at the front of the barricades as crowds formed behind them.

"We thought it would clear up soon," said Paiva, a Carle Place High School junior. "But then the police started pushing us further back."

At first officers told the burgeoning crowd that it was only a car fire, but Papez said the situation got serious when the bomb squad and FBI showed up. When they saw police evacuating nearby stores and hotels, they knew this was more than a simple car fire.

Text messages and phone calls to their parents who were watching the news at home, revealed more on the flurry of police activity.

"We were definitely scared, especially since we really didn't know what was going on," Paiva said.

Many in the crowd were tourists, Garrido said, who thought the event was part of a movie being filmed.

"It was really scary," Papez said. "If something did happen, we wouldn't have been able to move."

It would be more than five hours before they could leave and they finally arrived home close to 3 a.m.

For Paiva's mother, Arminda, 46, this was the time she finally exhaled. "I said, OK, now I can rest, it was under control, but still, it's scary." She said she won't hesitate to let her daughter return to Manhattan, as long as she continues to communicate with her. "It's not safe anywhere these days, and you can't keep them locked up," she said.

The girls said they will return to the city.

"I don't think we should have lingered as long as we did; something could have happened, that package could have exploded," Papez said.

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