NEW YORK (AP) — From solemn to spectacular, the nation marked its independence with the reopening of the Statue of Liberty for the first time since Superstorm Sandy, extravagant fireworks that included a 19-burst salute to Arizona's fallen firefighters and a musical tribute in Washington to those affected by the Boston Marathon bombing.
"I always love July Fourth and I'm very happy to be in this country, I know I'm blessed," said 15-year-old Yoana Lorenzo, who was among the millions who watched the New York City's over-the-top Fourth of July Fireworks show Thursday night. "To see all these people come together and celebrate, it's pretty great."
Four barges carrying 40,000 shells on the Hudson River unleashed a barrage of brilliant reds, whites and blues — some in shapes and smiley faces — as spectators marveled at the famed New York fireworks display, snapping videos and pictures on their cellphones.
Earlier Thursday, hundreds lined up to be among the first to board boats destined for Lady Liberty, which opened for the first time since it was shuttered by Sandy. Among them was New Yorker Heather Leykam, whose mother's home was destroyed during the storm.
"This, to us, Liberty Island, is really about a rebirth," said Leykam, who was with her family. "It is a sense of renewal for the city and the country. We wouldn't have missed it for the world."
In Prescott, Ariz., celebrations were more subdued.
A fire chief read the names of the 19 firefighters killed last weekend battling a wildfire, while 19 single fireworks burst overhead.
"Less than 100 hours ago, the city of Prescott, the state of Arizona and the nation lost 19 of the best, the bravest firefighters ever dispatched into the forest," fire department division chief Don Devendorf said.
The commemorative starbursts were followed by a raucous 20-minute display choreographed to patriotic pop songs, which drew cheering, grins and shouts of "America!"
Also, 19 candles burned beneath red, white and blue bunting, at Bistro St. Michael on Whiskey Row in the old West town — one for each firefighter.
In California, more than two dozen people were injured when a wood platform holding live fireworks tipped over, sending the pyrotechnics into a crowd in Simi Valley, northwest of Los Angeles. Officials said 20 people were taken to hospitals with minor to moderate injuries, and eight more were treated at the park. A bomb squad was at the park to deactivate the remainder of the fireworks.
In Washington, thousands gathered on the National Mall to ring in the Fourth of July with fireworks and music. Neil Diamond sang "Sweet Caroline" in tribute to victims and survivors of the April 15 Boston Marathon bombing. The song is a Fenway Park tradition, and Diamond performed it there in the aftermath of the attack.
Boston hosted its first large gathering since the marathon bombing that killed three and injured hundreds. While attendance for the city's celebration appeared to be down early, it increased as the start of the festivities approached. Crowds on the Charles River Esplanade seemed smaller than in recent years, while a robust law enforcement presence greeted revelers gathering for a performance by the Boston Pops and a fireworks display.
Among those at Boston's festivities was Carlos Arredondo, the cowboy hat-wearing marathon attendee who became part of one of the indelible images of the bombings' aftermath in a photo showing him helping rush a badly wounded man from the scene in a wheelchair, his legs torn to pieces.
Arredondo said the July 4 celebration — an event authorities believe the bombing suspects initially planned to target — was an important milestone in the healing process, not just for him but also those who were stopping to tell him their own stories from that day.
"I think there's no better place to be," said Arredondo, wearing his cowboy hat and a "Boston Strong" shirt in the marathon's colors of blue and yellow.
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