Sunday, April 22, 2001

Derby festival draws hundreds of thousands

The Associated Press

        LOUISVILLE, Ky. — Thousands of exploding shells illuminated the city's riverfront Saturday night as the largest-ever Thunder Over Louisville dazzled an estimated 800,000 fans.

        The giant fireworks extravaganza blasted 51,000 shells from two floating barges and the Clark Memorial Bridge, which was roped off and lined with exploding charges last week.

        “It's got to be, honestly, one of the most exciting things I see all year,” said Shannon Piersall, of Louisville. “I love it.”

[photo] James Paul, 5, of Louisville sits at the controls of a Kentucky Air National Guard OH-58A scout helicopter.
(Associated Press photo)
| ZOOM |
        The show, started in 1990 with a meager 3,500 shells, has added more than 5,000 shells each year since 1998. It kicks off the Kentucky Derby Festival, this year dubbed “2001: A Festival Odyssey.”

        Hand transplant patients Matthew Scott and Jerry Fisher flipped the switch that ignited some 250 launching tubes, each about 18 inches thick.

        Scott, of Absecon, N.J., was the country's first-ever hand recipient when he received a new hand in 1999. Mr. Fisher, a Jackson, Mich., native, underwent the operation in February.

        Both men received their hands at Jewish Hospital in Louisville.

        Derby Festival CEO Mike Berry estimated that a record crowd of 800,000 saw the show.

        More than 1,100 police officers from the city, county and suburbs, National Guard members and Kentucky State Police patrolled the shoreline, while the U.S. Coast Guard and local agencies cruised the waters.

        This year, the regulated section of the river was expanded, and officials are maintaining a six-mile “no wake” zone. Police are taking extra precautions after the drowning death of a 23-year-old Louisville woman last year.

        By early evening, police had reported no major incidents or injuries.

        Indiana State Police shut down Interstate 65 just before the show in order to divert traffic.

        Thunder Over Louisville is annually preceded by a day-long air show, which some fans say is their favorite part of the event.

        The aircraft ranged from the F-117 Stealth “Nighthawk,” which can max out at 646 mph, to the Apache helicopter, an attack chopper with a reputation for destroying tanks.


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