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Cat-in-the-Hat Balloon At Macy’s Thanksgiving Parade in New York Knocks Down a Light Pole and

November 27, 1997 GMT

Cat-in-the-Hat Balloon At Macy’s Thanksgiving Parade in New York Knocks Down a Light Pole and Injures Four SpectatorsBy TOM HAYS

NEW YORK (AP) _ Macy’s 71st Thanksgiving Day Parade got to a dangerous, wind-whipped start today, with one balloon knocking down a light pole that injured four spectators, police said.

Two women with serious head injuries were taken to St. Luke’s Hospital after the accident at about 10 a.m. on Central Park West, said police spokeswoman Officer Cheryl Cox.

Two other people with minor injuries were being treated at St. Claire’s Hospital, said the officer. The identities of the four were not immediately available.

Even before the parade started, one giant balloon was shredded by a gust of wind and knocked out of the parade while the 17 floats were stored overnight near the American Museum of Natural History on Central Park West.

At about 9 a.m., when the parade started moving down Central Park West toward Herald Square at 34th Street, winds were blowing at about 20 mph, with gusts of about twice that.

``Don’t wrap your line around any part of your body, because you could lose your arm, balloon ``captain″ Stephanie Mills told the handlers of Quik Bunny.

Ms. Mills, a buyer at Macy’s, was among a group of balloon″captains″ giving handlers precise instructions on how to maneuver the surviving 16 mammoth floats in less-than-ideal conditions.

But the wind won when one balloon, The Cat in the Hat, struck the top of a light pole at 72nd Street and Central Park West, police said. The top of the pole was knocked to the ground, striking the four people, said Cox, the police spokeswoman.

Hospital officials did not immediately return calls, and police could not provide details of the injuries.

The 18-foot-high Cat in the Hat arrived at Herald Square just after 11 a.m. with its signature red-and-white striped hat shredded. The float based on Dr. Seuss’s classic storybook character has a 16-foot-wide bow tie and is filled with 14,500 cubic feet of helium and air.

At the Central Park West spot where the huge balloon sheared of f the the pole _ including a large lamp _ the sidewalk was smeared with blood in several spots.

Overnight, while the balloons were held down by nets and sandbags, one balloon was destroyed and several others damaged. Bunny’s head ``popped,″ Ms. Mills said. ``Somehow they got him repaired, so we’ll see if he makes it.″

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In addition, the Flying Fish balloon was shredded by a gust of wind, and the Pink Panther had minor damage but was repaired, said Jim Arnold, a Macy’s employee and balloon troubleshooter.

Arnold said that to better control the balloons in the wind, pilots would keep them flying at no more than one building story high instead of the usual three to four. After the accident, some of the floats were kept so low they almost scraped the pavement.

At least 1 million spectators were expected to line the 2 1/2-mile parade route, some camping out in sleeping bags before dawn to get spots close to the marching characters.

They included favorites like Arthur the aardvark and ``Rugrats″ pals Tommy Pickles, Chuckie and Spike, as well as Ms. Petula Pig, a Macy’s original creation.

Volunteer handers, mostly Macy’s employees and their families, were also responsible for controlling inflated creatures such as Peter Rabbit, Snoopy and Sonic the Hedgehog. Another 18 smaller novelty balloons also joined 14 marching bands and 600 clowns.

``We don’t take the wind lightly,″ Jean McFaddin told the Daily News. ``We’re prepared, and we have a plan we put into action if we have to.″

McFaddin has produced the parade for the department store for 21 years.

In 1993, winds caused the 64-foot-tall Sonic the Hedgehog to crash into a lamppost and explode. The falling debris injured an off-duty police officer and a 10-year-old girl.

Whipping winds have also lifted the balloon pilots off the ground over the years.

The parade, a holiday tradition started in 1924, was only suspended three times _ from 1942 through 1944 _ because of the Second World War.