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NEW YORK, Nov 22 (Reuters) - Millions of people lined the streets of New York on Thursday to watch the 86th Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade, the largest event held in the city since Superstorm Sandy caused widespread damage throughout the region.
Giant helium balloons hovering over the parade lifted spirits in the wake of the deadly storm that flooded homes and businesses in New York and New Jersey last month.
Crowds along the parade route cheered a host of giant character balloons, including a 60-foot-tall Kermit the Frog balloon and an enormous Charlie Brown. The parade, which typically draws 3.5 million spectators and 50 million television viewers, also featured 28 floats, 11 marchine bands, thousands of cheerleaders and dancers and Santa Claus. Celebrity performers included Whoopi Goldberg, Carly Rae Jepsen and the Muppets.
The parade was the largest public event held in the city since the storm, which killed 132 people in the United States and Canada.
"As it has during turbulent times in our history, we hope the Macy's Parade serves as a beacon of hope for all who tune in and gather with friends and family to give thanks this season, as they continue to heal from the devastating aftermath of Superstorm Sandy," Amy Kule, the parade's executive producer, said in a statement.
Macy's said it would provide seats for some 5,000 people affected by Sandy, which inundated lower Manhattan with seawater, damaged shorelines and destroyed homes in New Jersey and New York.
Thousands of area residents are coping with the loss of homes, businesses and loved ones on Thanksgiving. Some are marking the occasion in homeless shelters.
Watching the balloons being inflated on Wednesday night was Chris Tamis, his wife and two teenagers, whose home on hard-hit Long Island only recently had its power restored.
"Coming here is a good distraction," said Tamis, who lives in Smithtown, New York. "A lot of people are coming to get away from it."
On Wednesday, New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg announced that the city, in partnership with local community organizations and businesses, was providing 26,500 Thanksgiving meals for people hardest hit by the storm. (Editing by Barbara Goldberg and Stacey Joyce)