by Scott Sieber
That's how many firecrackers were set off on Union Street Saturday to kick off the celebration of the Lunar New Year, observed as 4704 in the Chinese calendar and the year 4339 in the Korean calendar.For five minutes, strings of firecrackers popped off in succession in front of the 109th Police Precinct station.The deafening display caused onlookers to plug their ears and spewed clouds of smoke as high as the surrounding buildings, leaving in its wake empty firecracker casings all over the streets.At the conclusion, thousands of antsy parade participants broke into step, led by a side-by-side chain of northeast Queens' political representatives and community activists, who moments earlier were forced to duck under their street-wide banner to take shelter from the popping firecracker casings.”Happy New Year,” they shouted in English, Chinese and Korean.Marchers followed and roused oohs and aahs from the dense crowd of spectators with colorful confetti streamers and dazzling traditional costumes.Diverse cultural groups from nearly 120 organizations marched in this year's parade, including ethnic Indian, Bangladeshi, Jewish and Vietnamese groups, and the Northeast Queens NAACP. But it was the Asian groups that came out in full force with 3,000 marchers from 30 Chinese organizations and 1,500 people from 60 Korean groups walking side by side through the streets.Police estimated nearly 25,000 people attended this year's festivities. As the parade made its way around downtown Flushing, the crowd grew in numbers, with the thickest gatherings situated around Flushing Library where onlookers were forced to take to the second and third stories of surrounding buildings to get a better look.NY1's Sandra Endo was on hand for the second time in three years to serve as the parade's official commentator on the steps of the library. She stayed well after her duties were completed to watch another round of 32,000 firecrackers and confetti streamers fill the sky at the entrance of the Flushing Mall.”It's amazing,” she said after the parade. “I love doing this.”The parade came to a halt at the Flushing Mall where members split into groups, with the Chinese continuing inside to set up activities and Koreans moving on to Flushing High School.From the outset, crowd favorites as always were the lion dances performed by the DCH Lion Dance Team of Flushing, whose members also participate in the summer Dragon Boat races. Falun Dalfa practitioners brought up the rear of the parade with legions of dancers and percussionists playing hourglass-shaped drums. Many came from Taiwan specifically for the event and praised this year's festivities as one of the best. Reach reporter Scott Sieber by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org or by phone at 718-229-0300, Ext. 138.