'Mixed feelings' as a million revellers watch Sydney fireworks show after cancellation calls
Large crowds thronged Sydney harbour to watch Australia's famous New Year's Eve fireworks, even as smoke from deadly wildfires turned skies in nearby coastal towns blood-red.
Around a million revellers thronged Sydney harbour and nearby districts to watch more than 100,000 fireworks explode above the city, even as thousands of people along Australia's eastern seaboard sought refuge on beaches from the bushfires.
Sydney decided to press ahead with its fireworks display despite calls by some members of the public for it to be cancelled in solidarity with fire-hit areas in New South Wales, of which the city is the capital.
Fire authorities gave the all-clear for the New Year's Eve spectacular over Sydney harbour, even after some in the community and a state Labour politician pressed for it to be called off, citing fears of fire risk.
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"Tonight we expect a million people around the harbour and a billion people around the world to watch Sydney's New Year's Eve celebrations, which is Australia's biggest public event," Sydney mayor Clover Moore told reporters.
Responding to calls to cancel the event and reallocate the funding to fire-affected regions, Mr Moore said planning for the fireworks began 15 months ago and most of the budget had already been allocated. The event was also a boost to New South Wales' economy.
Mr Moore added that people viewing the fireworks around the harbour saw a donation link projected on to the Sydney Harbour Bridge pylons throughout the night.
The city was granted an exemption to a total fireworks ban introduced to prevent new wildfires.
Some other towns in eastern Australia cancelled their New Year celebrations as naval vessels and military helicopters helped firefighters rescue people fleeing the flames.
"Many of us have mixed feelings about this evening, but the important thing we take out of this is that we're a resilient state," New South Wales premier Gladys Berejiklian said.
"I don't want to take a second away from the deep sense of loss and tragedy many people are feeling."
The weather in Sydney was relatively mild, although its skies were still cloaked in smoke from nearby fires.
Worryingly, by yesterday evening the bushfires had reached western Sydney, some 30km away from Sydney Harbour Bridge, with an emergency warning issued for an out-of-control blaze burning in the suburb of Greystanes.
Fires so close to Australia's largest city sparked anger among some residents.
"Is Sydney seriously still getting fireworks tonight when half our country is on fire?" one Twitter user said.