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July 4 put Queens on high alert for terrorism

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Some Queens residents celebrated Independence Day as usual, others changed their plans because of the terrorist warnings and for some it was just another day.

But the borough and the city were on high alert due to a possible terrorist assault on the first Fourth of July celebration since the Sept. 11 attacks on the World Trade Center.

People flocked to the parks along the borough’s waterfront to watch the fireworks, enjoy a barbecue and spend time with family members, but more importantly, to feel a light breeze off the river, which provided a small respite from the 100-degree heat.

Rainey Park in Long Island City was packed with hundreds of people from the many different cultures throughout the borough. They were eating, laughing and reveling in the the day off from their jobs. While some played volleyball and soccer, others sunbathed and children ran all over the place. A police van would pull into the park every 10 minutes to patrol.

Police officers were not omnipresent in every neighborhood; in some areas, such as Astoria Park, marked cars were more prevalent as they drove around and around, but in the southwestern corner of the borough, police officers were on foot at every corner and constantly circling the community.

Queens residents and people from all over the metropolitan area gathered at the borough’s waterfront since it offered prime viewing of the Macy’s fireworks over the East River. The show, which honored the fallen heroes of Sept. 11, lit up the night sky from 9:20 p.m. to 10:10 p.m. in spectacular lights.

Julio Negron, who was celebrating his birthday and July 4th with friends in Astoria Park, said he and his companions decided to stay close to home this year to avoid the traffic and congestion caused by the added security. He said he usually heads to the beach.

“Ever since Sept. 11 everybody has been proud to be American, which was something we took for granted,” he said. “I feel proud to be American, especially on my birthday. The security under the bridge and the police cars makes you feel good; I have never seen that before.”

For Nader Nasser, who grew up in Astoria and lives in White Plains, it was just another day. Sitting along the water in the shadows of the Hellgate Bridge with his wife and daughter, he said, it was a normal holiday.

Sept. 11 did not play a role in how he would spend the day, he said, “maybe for someone else, but not for me.”

He was not deterred from enjoying his day even though the media had been reporting that many people of Arab heritage feared reprisals from the Trade Center attacks.

“I have had no problems,” Nasser said. “No one has come up to me and said anything.”

It was not just another holiday or day off for Israel Ramos, of Maspeth, who was just a block away. He said he always was patriotic, but this July 4th held more importance than in previous years.

“People are closer, they are getting together,” he said. “I feel sorry for the people who stayed indoors. They should not feel threatened. They need to be outside to enjoy our freedom.”

For many the day was a time to get together with family and friends from all over the city whom they had not seen in some time. Sandra Blyden, who grew up in Jamaica but now lives in the Bronx, got together with her family in Rainey Park for the first time in many years.

About 30 family members were spending time enjoying each others’ company, catching up on old stories and, of course, barbecuing.

“We are actually having a family reunion like it used to be,” she said. “It is the first time in a long time since we have been together.”

Just a few yards away, Margie of Long Island City was barbecuing with a group of family and friends.

“It was the hottest Fourth of July ever,” she said. “I am trying not to focus on the heat, but keeping up the spirit of the Fourth of July.”

The security in the river, park and on the street was greater than in years past, but it did not make her uneasy. She knew what to expect because of everything the media was reporting.

At the entrance to Roosevelt Island, Capt. Thomas Pilkington, of the 114th Precinct, who joined with his fellow officers to prevent people from driving onto the island unless they lived there, said the precinct stations officers there every year.

“Everything in the area seems good,” he said, “but that is because everybody is on high alert.”

Reach reporter Adam Kramer by e-mail at Timesledgr@aol.com or call 229-0300, Ext. 157.

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