America celebrates Independence Day

Wednesday, July 4, 2012 - 12:01pm

People all across America geared up on Wednesday to celebrate Independence Day, a tradition that often includes copious amounts of beer, barbecued meats, carnivals, parades and fireworks.

But revelers will also confront widespread power outages and a heat wave that continues to scorch much of the country.

Warnings of temperatures near or above triple digits are in place for parts of Minnesota, Wisconsin, Indiana, Missouri, Illinois and Kentucky, according to the National Weather Service.

Several towns and cities across the country have scrapped plans to hold their annual fireworks displays over fears of rising temperatures and dry conditions.

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

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

But in the nation's capital, a fireworks display is set go ahead as planned on Wednesday evening, despite the tens of thousands who remain without power in the surrounding region.

President Barack Obama marked the holiday on Wednesday 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 comes less than a month after the Obama administration announced that 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 added.

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.

William Schuller, a 76-year-old resident of Lincoln, Nebraska, said that even though he's "older than Methuselah," he still plans to mark the holiday by working the ticket booth at the Lincoln Race Course.

"I live across the street from a real fancy neighborhood, and they always do some real nice fireworks," he said, chuckling. "They'll spend $10,000 on fireworks, so we'll all sit in the cul-de-sac and watch."

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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