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Fourth's festivities end on a scary note

Twelve are hurt as a fireworks display goes awry in St. Pete Beach.

By NICK JOHNSON AND PAUL SWIDER
Published July 5, 2007


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photo
John Wetzel captured this image on Treasure Island.

Fireworks blasted on the beaches and in the air Wednesday night, as pyrotechnic displays malfunctioned in two Pinellas cities.

In St. Pete Beach, 12 people were treated for cuts and bruises, including two taken to a hospital for lacerations, when one of the fireworks blasted on the ground instead of overhead. The blast shattered windows in nearby buildings.

"This is the first time we've had an incident in the 32 years I've been here, " said fire Chief Fred Golliner.

Lena Robinson, who was staying at a nearby hotel, said "it was like a ball of fire, when I turned around and looked."

A similar malfunction occurred in Treasure Island, although there were no reports of injuries.

"That ended our display very abruptly, " said fire Chief Charlie Fant.

Fant noted that, compared to St. Pete Beach, "Our beach is much wider, and so we're able to cordon off a much larger area, " which may have helped prevent injuries.

Henry Reni, 69, of Seminole was watching the fireworks in Treasure Island when he saw "a spectacular flash that shook the ground beneath us for about a second and a half, I would say."

He said that "we knew it was a fierce explosion because the ground shook. My granddaughter was with us and she started to run away."

It was not clear late Wednesday what caused the fireworks to burst on the ground instead of in the air.

But elsewhere in the Tampa Bay area, fireworks exploded overhead, where they're supposed to.

"They're pretty and they make me feel like I'm 6 years old again, " Christa Jarvis, 26, said of the fireworks display in downtown St. Petersburg. "They make me focus on what's good in life."

All around the Tampa Bay area, people recognized Independence Day by supporting the troops, protesting the war, creating American flags, firing up barbecues and watching the fireworks.

Before the fireworks started, about 50 protesters quietly paraded along the sidewalks carrying clotheslines full of garments bearing slogans deriding President Bush. The display drew mixed reactions.

J'Aimee Crocket, who had just come out of the movies with a friend, said she was glad to see them.

"I think it's a great way for people to express their First Amendment rights and I think it's great to see people marching, " she said.

But Ron Williams met the protesters with boos and a frown below his red, white and blue top hat.

"Displaying the flag upside down, that just really gets me, " Williams said. "They don't know how good they have it here."

The festivities began long before the fireworks.

At the TradeWinds resort on St. Pete Beach Wednesday morning, employees pieced together a mosaic of about 1, 000 red, white and blue towels on the beach behind the hotel, to create a 75-foot-long American flag. It's become an annual tradition.

[Last modified July 5, 2007, 06:40:23]


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