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July 4th saluted with fireworks, parades, parties

Friday - 7/5/2013, 3:31am  ET

A member of the Sons of the American Revolution San Antonio Chapter carries a wreath to a Fourth of July Patriotic Ceremony at Fort Sam Houston National Cemetery, Thursday, July 4, 2013, in San Antonio. (AP Photo/Eric Gay)
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COLLEEN LONG
Associated Press

NEW YORK (AP) -- Extravagant displays of Fourth of July fireworks lit up the skies around the nation, including 19 single bursts in Arizona to remember the firefighters killed in a wildfire, the Statue of Liberty reopened eight months after it was shuttered by Superstorm Sandy, and President Obama urged citizens to live up to the words of the Declaration of Independence.

Four barges carrying 40,000 shells on the Hudson River on Thursday night unleashed a barrage of brilliant reds, whites and blues -- some in shapes and smiley faces -- as spectators marveled at the classic New York over-the-top fireworks display, snapping videos and pictures on their cellphones.

"They're awesome," said a beaming 10-year-old Johnny Deluca, of Melbourne, Fla., while watching the 25-minute show titled "It Begins with a Spark" in Manhattan with his parents, Joe and Marie.

"He wanted to see the largest fireworks show in the world so we planned our vacation specifically to see the show in Manhattan," added Marie Deluca.

In Arizona, 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!"

In California, at least 14 people were injured by malfunctioning fireworks at a large community park in Simi Valley. Officials say more than a dozen people were taken to area hospitals with minor to moderate injuries. No other details were immediately available.

Earlier Thursday, hundreds lined up to be among the first to board boats destined for Lady Liberty, including New Yorker Heather Leykam and her family.

"This, to us, Liberty Island, is really about a rebirth," said Leykam, whose mother's home was destroyed during the storm. "It is a sense of renewal for the city and the country. We wouldn't have missed it for the world."

Nationwide, Boston hosted its first large gathering since the marathon bombing that killed three and injured hundreds, and Philadelphia, Washington and New Orleans hosted large holiday concerts. A Civil War reenactment commemorating the 150th anniversary of the Battle of Gettysburg drew as many as 40,000 people to Pennsylvania. In Arizona, sober tributes were planned for 19 firefighters who died this week battling a blaze near Yarnell.

Interior Secretary Sally Jewell, speaking at the reopening of the Statue of Liberty, choked up as she told the crowd she was wearing a purple ribbon in memory of the fallen firefighters.

"Nineteen firefighters lost their lives in the line of duty, and we as a nation stand together," she said through tears.

The island was decorated with star-spangled bunting, but portions remain blocked off with large construction equipment, and the main ferry dock was boarded up. Repairs to brick walkways and docks were ongoing. But much of the work has been completed since Sandy swamped the 12-acre island in New York Harbor, and visitors were impressed.

"It's stunning, it's beautiful," said Elizabeth Bertero, 46, of California's Sonoma County. "They did a great job rebuilding. You don't really notice that anything happened."

The statue itself was unharmed, but the land took a beating. Railings broke, docks and paving stones were torn up and buildings were flooded. The storm destroyed electrical systems, sewage pumps and boilers. Hundreds of National Park Service workers from as far away as California and Alaska spent weeks cleaning mud and debris.

"It is one of the most enduring icons of America, and we pulled it off -- it's open today," National Park Service Director Jonathan Jarvis said. "Welcome."

The statue was open for a single day last year -- Oct. 28, the day before Sandy struck. It had been closed the previous year for security upgrades. Neighboring Ellis Island remains closed and there has been no reopening date set.

Elsewhere in New York, throngs of revelers packed Brooklyn's Coney Island to see competitive eating champ Joey Chestnut scarf down 69 hot dogs to break a world record and win the title for a seventh year at the 98th annual Nathan's Famous Fourth of July International Hot Dog Eating Contest. Sonya Thomas defended her title with nearly 37 dogs.

In his weekly radio address from Washington, Obama urged Americans to work to secure liberty and opportunity for their own children and future generations. The first family was to host U.S. servicemen and women at the White House for a cookout.

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