By DEEPTI HAJELA
Associated Press Writer
NEW YORK (AP) - The Fourth of July fireworks display billed as the nation's biggest is trying to up this year's oohs and aahs with a pyrotechnic novelty: exploding shells aimed at the water, not the sky.
The so-called nautical shells are supposed to explode on the surface of the East River, remaining illuminated for a few seconds before fading out, said Robin Hall, executive producer of the Macy's Fourth of July display.
The display of 40,000 fireworks will be just one of the celebrations planned across the country on a day that will also include thousands of immigrants becoming citizens - and plenty of caution.
In the nation's capital, security was heightened as organizers sought to reassure visitors following recent attempted car bombings in Britain.
Hundreds of emergency responders from about 20 law enforcement agencies were on duty, authorities said. A police helicopter was to monitor crowds from above, and officers were urged to be on alert for vehicles with suspicious characteristics such as protruding wires or an unusual odor.
As with past July 4 festivities since the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, the mall was fenced off and visitors were required to pass through security checkpoints. The 19 checkpoints opened at 10 a.m. and have been widened to eliminate potential bottlenecks, U.S. Park Police spokesman Sgt. Robert Lachance said.
"We're expecting a record crowd to come out this year and enjoy the fireworks," said Lachance, citing a favorable forecast. Crowds have reached 500,000 people or more in the past.
Independence Day festivities in Washington include a parade on Constitution Avenue, a concert by the National Symphony Orchestra
on the West Lawn of the Capitol and a 20-minute fireworks show.
Dry weather conditions have curtailed some fireworks use in the West. Breckenridge, Colo., canceled its fireworks show because of the high-fire danger. In Washington state, private fireworks are banned in Seattle, Tacoma and parts of Spokane.
In Iraq, where the 4th of July was business as usual for the nearly 160,000 U.S. troops, some said their service made them more appreciative of the holiday.
"This is a good place to celebrate the 4th of July," Sgt. Jesse Jones, 24, of Olympia, Wash., who is serving with the 2nd Infantry Division in Baqouba. "Not only are we celebrating independence, we're fighting for independence, too."
Before the fireworks begin, thousands of immigrants are expected to be sworn in as new American citizens during special ceremonies across the country.
At Walt Disney World in Orlando, Fla., officials plan to pronounce citizenship on 1,000 people at a "Dreams Come True" ceremony near Cinderella's castle. Singers Gloria Estefan and Lee Greenwood are expected to make appearances. Later, new citizens will head down Main Street USA for a parade in their honor.
In Boston, some immigrants planned to take their oath on the USS Constitution, the Navy's oldest commissioned warship.
In Phoenix, the ceremony is planned for a community college gymnasium. Mumford, N.Y., officials are planning a quiet ceremony for 35 prospective citizens at a museum. The library in Castroville, Calif. is slated to host its annual "Proud to be American Citizenship Ceremony."
Although July 4th citizenship ceremonies are an annual event, officials have seen a surge in applications this year as the naturalization process has been streamlined and applicants race to beat fee increases, said Marie Sebrechts, a U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services spokeswoman.
There were more than 110,000 naturalization applications filed in April, nearly double the 66,039 applications filed in April 2006, according to federal statistics.
More than 4,000 people in all are expected to take their citizenship oaths this week, the government said.
(Copyright 2007 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)