Despite Fears and Huge Fire, New Year’s Celebrations Roll On

December 31, 2015 Updated: January 1, 2016
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On a New Year’s Eve haunted by fears of terrorism, a spectacular fire in one of Dubai’s tall towers captured the world’s attention. With few exceptions, the celebrations rolled on, and while fire still raged, the Dubai Media office declared on Twitter: “New Year celebrations in Dubai will continue as scheduled.”

As 2015 drew to a close, many people were bidding a weary and wary adieu to a year marred by attacks that left nations reeling and nerves rattled.

In Bangkok, site of a deadly bombing months ago, police flanked partygoers. In Paris, residents recovering from their city’s own deadly attacks prepared for scaled-back celebrations. And in Munich, police were worried about the threat of a terror attack.

A look at how people around the welcomed the new year:

United Arab Emirates

In the megacity of Dubai, a fire broke out two hours before midnight in The Address hotel, in the area where a massive fireworks display was being prepared.

The five-star hotel is near the Burj Khalifa, the world’s tallest building. At least one person suffered a heart attack from the smoke and over-crowding during evacuation, and 14 suffered minor injuries.

Organizers said the Burj Khalifa had been fitted with 400,000 LED lights and 1.6 tons of fireworks would be used in the display.

Burning debris rained down from The Address building as firetrucks raced to the scene. It was unclear what caused the fire, which ran up the 63-story building. The Address has 626 luxury apartments and 196 hotel rooms, according to Skyscraper Center, which tracks skyscrapers.

France

The French are still recovering from the Nov. 13 attacks that left 130 people dead in Paris, and authorities were preparing for a possible worst-case scenario on NewYear’s Eve. About 60,000 police and troops were being deployed across the country.

French President Francois Hollande used his traditional New Year’s Eve speech to warn that the terrorist threat is still at its “highest level.”

“2015 has been a year of suffering and resistance,” he said. “Let’s make 2016 a year of courage and hope.”

Paris canceled its usual fireworks display in favor of a 5-minute video performance at the Arc de Triomphe just before midnight, relayed on screens along the Champs Elysee.

Paris Mayor Anne Hidalgo said the show was to be aimed at “sending the world the message that Paris is standing, proud of its lifestyle and living together.”

Thailand

Less than six months after a pipe bomb killed 20 people at the Erawan Shrine in Bangkok, tens of thousands of people rang in the new year at the intersection with live music and a countdown.

Up to 5,000 police officers were in the area, with explosive ordnance disposal experts sweeping the area ahead of time.

Malaysia

Security was beefed up in Malaysia’s biggest city, Kuala Lumpur, where fireworks greeted the new year at a historic square and at the Petronas Twin Towers, one of the world’s tallest buildings.

Philippines

Concern in the Philippines on New Year’s Eve focused on the use of illegal fireworks, which last year injured more than 850 people. Shopping malls and cities organized fireworks displays to discourage people from lighting their own firecrackers.

An annual procession of the Black Nazarene, a black wooden statue of Jesus Christ, was held a day earlier than usual Thursday to prevent injuries from mounds of trash and unexploded firecrackers that litter Manila’s streets after New Year’s revelries.

Japan

New Year’s Eve is Japan’s biggest holiday, and millions of people crammed into trains to flee the cities for their hometowns to slurp down bowls of noodles, symbolizing longevity, while watching the annual “Red and White” song competition on television. As midnight approached, families bundled up for visits to neighborhood temples, where the ritual ringing of huge bronze bells reverberated through the chill.

Tokyo was on special alert for security issues, with posters in subways and other public spaces warning people to keep their eyes open for suspicious packages or activities.

Koreas

South Koreans marked New Year’s Eve with traditional bell ringing ceremonies, fireworks, and outdoor music and dance performances. One celebration was organized at a town near the border with rival North Korea to watch one of the ceremonies and wish for peaceful Korean unification.

New Zealand

New Zealand, the first nation with a sizable population to celebrate the New Year, counted down the seconds to midnight with a giant digital clock on Auckland’s landmark Sky Tower. Horns blared and crowds cheered as the tower was lit up with fireworks, with colors shifting from green to red to white.

Australia

Simultaneous fireworks displays erupted along Sydney’s famed harbor, where people crowded onto balconies, into waterside parks and onto boats as they jockeyed for the best view, clinking glasses and whooping with joy as the first pyrotechnics exploded.

More than 1 million people had been expected to watch the glittery display, featuring a multicolored fireworks waterfall cascading off the Sydney Harbour Bridge and effects in the shapes of butterflies, octopuses, and flowers.

Kenya

Police in Kenya, which has been repeatedly attacked by al-Shabaab militants from neighboring Somalia, urged vigilance as many people prepared to celebrate the newyear in hotels and watch midnight fireworks displays. Unauthorized fireworks were banned as safety hazards “in view of the elevated threat of terrorism,” police said.

Belgium

In Brussels, 2016 was to be rung in without the customary fireworks display and downtown street party. The festivities were canceled by Mayor Yvan Mayeur, who said it would have been impossible to administer adequate security checks to all 100,000 people expected to attend.

On Thursday morning, forklifts and trucks removed generators and other equipment from the Place de Brouckere, the broad square in central Brussels where the fireworks show was supposed to happen. Some people called that knuckling under to the extremist threat.

Germany

Rainy weather dampened the New Year celebrations in Berlin, where security was tighter than in previous years. Several hundred thousand people still turned out for several minutes of fireworks at the Brandenburg Gate, wishing each other “Froehes neues Jahr” and expressing their hopes for a peaceful 2016.

In Munich, police warned about an hour before the New Year of a “serious, imminent threat” of a terror attack. Despite the call by police for people to stay away from crowds, thousands of people were still on the streets to meet the new year with fireworks.

Britain

Major celebrations marked by fireworks spectaculars were planned in London, Edinburgh, and other big cities despite a terror threat judged to be severe. Police advised revelers not to go to the fireworks displays without tickets and to be ready to have their belongings searched.

Brazil

Rio de Janeiro is kicking off its Olympic year with a fiesta on Copacabana Beach for more than 2 million people, according to police estimates. Brazil’s most popular New Year’s Eve show was to be illuminated by 24 tons of fireworks for almost 16 minutes. To celebrate Rio’s hosting of the 2016 Summer Games in August, the soundtrack for revelers included music from previous Olympics and songs paying homage to samba on its 100th anniversary.

Rio authorities said they weren’t as worried about terrorism as other cities. Police were using two monitoring trucks to follow suspicious movements during the party. That equipment also will be used in security operations during the Olympic Games.

Las Vegas

Officials urged revelers to leave bags, backpacks, and strollers at home as police readied for hundreds of thousands of partiers to flood the Las Vegas Strip. It’s wasn’t a first-of-its-kind request, but it got extra emphasis following deadly attacks in Paris and San Bernardino, California.

Nearly 1,000 uniformed officers and an undisclosed number of undercover officers were posted along the popular 4-mile-long, casino-filled corridor.

Las Vegas Mayor Carolyn Goodman lamented the prospect that fear might keep people from celebrating New Year’s Eve.

“We cannot let that rule,” she said.