Hours early, New Year’s revelers fill Times Square

Visitors to Times Square take photos as technicians prepare a stage that will be used in the New Years celebration, Friday, Dec. 30, 2016, in New York's Times Square. (AP Photo/Mary Altaffer)

NEW YORK (AP) — New Year’s Eve revelers, donning oversized 2017 eyeglasses and green Statue of Liberty hats, filled Times Square on Saturday hours before the glittering crystal ball was to drop.

Officials estimated as many as a million celebrants would descend upon the Crossroads of the World, braving cold temperatures and strong winds to ring in the New Year amid heavy police protection.

Stefania Moran, from Puebla, Mexico, and five friends, who are nannies for families in the United States, traveled to New York to secure a coveted spot in one of 35 metal pens where re-entry is prohibited.

“I’ve always wanted to come to New York, and this is one of the must-dos before you die,” she said.

Laura Ribera, from Bolivia, said people told her she was crazy for coming.

“But we wanted to be in New York,” she said. “Even the people in our hotel were asking us why we would go out there. But I feel safe.”

For more than two decades, security has gradually been tightened for the event. Recent deadly truck attacks in Germany and France brought about another security upgrade this year. Dozens of 20-ton sanitation trucks weighted with an extra 15 tons of sand are blocking off streets leading to the celebration zone.

About 7,000 police officers, along with specially armed counterterrorism units and bomb-sniffing dogs, are on guard, police said.

“We’re well prepared,” police Commissioner James O’Neill said. “All New Yorkers should feel safe, especially if you’re in Times Square. It is going to be the most protected place in the city.”

This year, United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon has the honor of pushing the Waterford crystal button that begins a 60-second countdown to 2017.

Mariah Carey is the headline performer in Times Square for “Dick Clark’s New Year’s Rockin’ Eve with Ryan Seacrest” on ABC. Other featured acts include pop-rock band DNCE, country star Thomas Rhett and Gloria Estefan and the cast of her Broadway musical, “On Your Feet!”

After the crowd leaves, cleanup will be left to a small army of city employees including 235 sanitation workers, 45 police officers and two deputy police chiefs.

Last year, the crews removed more than 44 tons of debris.

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