Rain drops fell along with confetti as revellers rang in 2019 in New York’s Times Square, capping a soggy New Year’s Eve celebration that included singer-songwriter Bebe Rexha’s stirring rendition of John Lennon’s Imagine just before midnight.
Crews used squeegees to try to remove water from the stages, but New Kids On The Block still splashed up puddles while performing their hit Step By Step on a giant set of steps.
At midnight, fireworks erupted over Times Square, couples kissed, families hugged and Auld Lang Syne played over loudspeakers.
“It was so awesome, it’s a once-in-a-lifetime experience,” said Colleen Giambrone, 55, of New Jersey. “Totally worth it, rain and all. It’s incredible.”
The Times Square party is always a marathon, with often cold temperatures, stringent security rules, hours-long waits and a lack of public toilets. But New Yorker Brie Dunn said being there “was like a true state of pure bliss and unity and love”.
“It felt like there was no hate in the world,” said the 22-year-old. “That’s what I hope for in 2019 and all the years to come.”
Spectator areas in and around Times Square started filling up late on Monday morning.
As always, the celebration took place under tight security, with partygoers searched at checkpoints and herded into pens ringed by metal barricades.
Thousands of police officers patrolled with the help of bomb-sniffing dogs, 1,225 security cameras and 235 “blocker vehicles” used to stop potential vehicle attacks.
The event went off safely, with no major disruptions, though the rain forced police to cancel plans to deploy a drone to help monitor the crowd.
Some people in the crowd knelt on the soaked ground, with ponchos over their heads as puddles formed and they waited for performers, including Christina Aguilera, Snoop Dogg, Dan + Shay and Bastille.
Veterans of the celebration said the rain was not that bad, considering last year was one of the coldest on record at minus 12C (10F). This year, the temperature was about 8C (47F) as midnight struck.
“We’re troopers. We got this,” said Nyia Williamson, 41, a self-described New Kids On The “Block Head” who was at the party for the 11th time.
The biggest cheers early on were for event workers handing out foam hats and blue gloves. For the unprepared, staying dry meant forking out. Vendors were charging up to 10 dollars for ponchos which ordinarily sell for 2 dollars.
As the soggy wait for midnight dragged on, some people in the crowd grew grim.
“It was a massive mistake,” Peter Walsh, 24, said of his decision to attend, after hours spent in the gloom.
Justine Brenkel, 26, from Lyon, France, said being in Times Square on New Year’s Eve was on her bucket list, but the hours of waiting were turning it into a bit of a disappointment.
“When we watch it on TV, it looks so much fun, there’s so much animation,” she said. “But we’re waiting for the show to start.”
Moods lifted, though, as midnight approached.
The final 60-second countdown happened as a geodesic sphere — 12f (3.5m) in diameter, covered with 2,688 Waterford crystal triangles and lit by 32,256 LEDs — dropped down a pole. The numerals “2019” lit up at midnight accompanied by pyrotechnics and the release of 3,000lb (1,360kg) of confetti.
Asked what they were looking forward to in 2019, revellers spoke of new jobs, getting married and spending more time with their families. One said he would like to win the lottery.
Maryanne Clarke, 52, of Waterville, Ohio, said she was there to “celebrate the possibility of 2019”, after a year in which she was diagnosed with breast cancer and underwent a round of chemotherapy.
She her 14-year-old daughter, Shannon, joined the crowd in singing along as Rexha performed Imagine to close 2018.
“I bet we all want peace and harmony,” Ms Clarke said. “I thought that was a perfect way into the new year.”