US Independence Day

NEW YORK (CNN) -- Cascading fireworks Wednesday night capped an Independence Day in which new citizens took the oath of allegiance and volunteers helped those affected by deadly storms and a heat wave.

Revelers across the country got an early start with beer, barbecue, parades and a massive 10K race in Atlanta.

In the nation's capital, a spectacular fireworks display went ahead as planned, despite the tens of thousands who remain without power in the surrounding region.

PBS' "A Capital Fourth" included performances by Broadway stars Kelli O'Hara and Matthew Broderick, R&B group Kool & the Gang and country singer Josh Turner.

Several cities scrapped plans to hold their annual fireworks displays over concerns of rising temperatures and dangerously dry conditions. In Boston, authorities delayed the celebrations for about 30 minutes because of storms.

"It's been in the upper 90s to low 100s all week," said police spokeswoman Sarah Benavidez of Sheridan County, Wyoming, which issued a fireworks ban across the region.

Plans for displays were also canceled in towns across Indiana, including Delphi, where authorities said they were prohibiting even consumer-grade fireworks.

In San Diego, fireworks were canceled after they all ignited prematurely at the same time, bewildering spectators and sending some fleeing. There were no injuries reported.

Other areas, still struggling from the economic downturn, opted out of their pyrotechnic plans for a simpler reason: The price tag.

"When you are faced with difficult budget choices, you have to sort out the desirable from the essential," said New Rochelle Mayor Noam Bramson. "The city council felt that this was an appropriate cut to make."

But his New York residents, not wanting to miss out on their customary dose of Independence Day explosions, sought out personal donations to make up the difference.

A total of $60,000 was raised, according to city officials. And one major contributor stood out among the rest: A woman known only as Guru Madeleine.

Her organization, the S.E.L.F.-Help Foundation, put forth a $50,000 contribution so that the show could go on.

"From the moment that I called to do it, I have felt nothing but joy," Madeleine said. "I saw the energy shift in the people, that excitement, and you have to have that. When attitudes are starting to feel hopeless, you have to have something to say 'Let's go, come on, come on, we can do this.'"

In New York, festivities ended on a somber note when a boat with 27 aboard capsized in Oyster Bay Harbor in Long Island on Wednesday night, throwing dozens watching fireworks into dark waters.

There were conflicting reports on how many people died -- with the Nassau County Police Department saying three people while the Coast Guard had two.

In Washington, the annual reading of the Declaration of Independence outside the National Archives was one of the day's main attractions.

President Barack Obama marked the holiday with a White House greeting following a naturalization ceremony in the East Room for a group of active-duty U.S. service members.

"Happy Fourth of July," he told the group. "I have to tell you, personally, that this is one of my favorite things to do."

The ceremony came less than a month after the Obama administration announced it will stop deporting young illegal immigrants who entered the United States as children if they meet certain requirements.

"It brings me great joy and inspiration because it reminds us that we are a country that is bound together not simply by ethnicity or blood lines, but by fidelity to a set of ideas," Obama said.

Members of the military attended a celebration Wednesday evening at the White House. "You and your families sacrifice more than most of us can ever know -- all in defense of those God-given rights that were first put to paper 236 years ago: life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness," Obama said.

Hundreds of thousands of Midwest and mid-Atlantic residents remained without power five days after deadly storms.

Charities, including Mountain Mission, stepped in to help West Virginia residents by delivering food and water to a shelter.

"This has really surprised us," said Mountain Mission's John Roberts during a stop at the Kanawha City Community Center in Charleston. "I've been doing this job for 12 years. We help with a lot of fires, a lot of floods, things like that. This storm snuck up on us."

The holiday commemorates America's original 13 colonies' declaring independence from Great Britain in 1776. July 4 has since become a federal holiday, giving all Americans an annual opportunity to celebrate.

In Tennessee, Strawberry Plains resident Diane Wilson, 67, said the day brings memories of her childhood, particularly one occasion in which she stepped barefoot on a lit sparkler.

"Didn't make me scared of sparklers though," Wilson said, laughing. "Just didn't go barefoot much after that."

In New York, Bill Etzel -- a Chicago native -- visited One World Trade Center, the structure in Lower Manhattan emerging from the scene of the September 11 attacks more than a decade ago.

"The Fourth means more today than it ever has before," said Etzel.

Meanwhile, a popular hot dog eating competition brought two reigning champs across the East River to Brooklyn for the annual tradition.

Sonya "The Black Widow" Thomas defended her title Wednesday afternoon at the Nathan's hot dog eating competition, setting a new women's world record after downing 45 hot dogs and buns.

She weighs about 100 pounds.

Her male counterpart, Joey "Jaws" Chestnut, also defended his title during the competition, tying his world record by downing 68 hot dogs in 10 minutes.

His victory Wednesday marks his sixth win at the competition.


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