Constant fireworks frazzle nerves in U.S. city that never sleeps

By Barbara Goldberg

NEW YORK (Reuters) – Complaints are skyrocketing about thundering fireworks exploding over otherwise quiet U.S. neighborhoods, fraying nerves already frazzled by COVID-19 lockdown restrictions.

Even in the city that never sleeps, weary New Yorkers in the first half of June lodged a one-hundredfold increase in complaints compared to the year-ago period, of explosions that begin before sundown and rattle windows into the morning. The city’s 311 hotline received 2,492 fireworks complaints from June 1-16, up from just 25 in the same period in 2019.

The pyrotechnics occur almost nightly across the five boroughs of New York, once the U.S. epicenter of coronavirus infections, which recently achieved the nation’s lowest rate of virus spread.

“We have been terrorized by the fireworks for weeks now,” said Tanya Bonner, a government policy consultant in her 40s who lives in upper Manhattan, where Columbia University’s athletics complex had been converted into a COVID-19 field hospital.

“It is very bad up here. This area also has many essential workers – and they need rest.”

Bonner, who suffers from diabetes, high blood pressure and asthma and must leave her apartment windows open, said she can sleep only by turning her television volume “way up” even though “the fireworks happen so close to my window that it is impossible to drown it out.”

To get some shuteye, another upper Manhattan resident said she closes all windows and muffles the blasts by turning on a noisy air conditioner, a fan, a white noise machine and screwing in some tight-fitting earplugs.

“Fireworks are illegal in New York City,” New York Police Detective Sophia Mason responded in an email. But neighboring New Jersey legalized some fireworks in 2017.

From Jan. 1 through June 14, the New York Police Department has seized fireworks on 26 occasions, made eight arrests, issued 22 criminal court summonses, and responded to 2 fireworks-related injuries, Mason said.

In Massachusetts, which has the country’s strictest prohibitions against fireworks, police blamed a spike in complaints in Boston and other municipalities on a stretch of warmer weather after months of stay-at-home orders.

“It’s just been months now of young people being inside, being bored,” said Lieutenant Sean Murtha of the Worcester Police Department, roughly 47 miles (76 km) west of Boston.

“It’s been a stressful time for everybody, an oppressive time,” said Murtha, who noted recent reports of gunshots that turned out to be fireworks were double the five-year average, totaling 27 in May, the most recent data available.

In upstate New York, Syracuse residents said they were being pushed to the brink by the pyrotechnics and more than 530 have signed a petition demanding Mayor Ben Walsh “crack down on constant fireworks” that have been booming since May.

“These are not merely a nuisance, but extremely traumatic for service members with PTSD,” Scott Upham Jr., a Syracuse resident who started the petition, said on Change.org.

Others said the noise was particularly bothersome for people with autism and family pets and worried that the fireworks create a fire hazard.

Mayor Walsh did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

(Additional reporting by Aleksandra Michalska; Editing by Richard Chang)

New Yorkers sing ‘Lean on Me’ to honor essential workers during coronavirus pandemic

By Aleksandra Michalska

(Reuters) – It starts as it has around the world with people leaning out of windows and standing on balconies clapping, cheering and banging pots and pans to honor essential workers still operating during the coronavirus pandemic.

And then a rousing collective rendition of the Bill Withers 1972 song “Lean on Me” begins.

“It’s amazing,” said Robert Hornsby, director of fundraising at the Peace of Heart Choir non-profit in New York City, after he had finished playing the song from his window in Manhattan’s Upper West Side.

“The amount of energy that we’ve received, and the amount of energy that we’re giving, has really lifted the spirits of New Yorkers, and we hope people across the nation, too.”

Organizers of the “New York Sings Along” event said the goal was to boost morale and honor all workers on the front lines battling the COVID-19 pandemic, and to share the healing power of music while obeying social distancing rules.

Every week, the nonprofit picks one song, and plays it after the applause for essential workers on Thursday nights.

Last week, it was Frank Sinatra’s “New York” and next week, it will be the Ben E. King classic “Stand by Me.”

U.S. coronavirus deaths have topped 48,000, with the number of lives lost in April rising by an average of 2,000 a day, according to a Reuters tally.

Withers, a soulful singer best known for the 1970s hits “Lean on Me,” “Lovely Day” and “Ain’t No Sunshine,” passed away at the age of 81 from heart complications, his family had said earlier this month.

(Reporting by Aleksandra Michalska, Editing by Karishma Singh and Michael Perry)