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Rain dampens West Indian American Day Parade's start, but spectators return with the sun

Spectators and participants danced in a downpour at the annual West Indian American Day Parade in Brooklyn on Monday. (Credit: AM New York / Yeong-Ung Yang; Todd Maisel)

Spectators, many without umbrellas, danced and waved flags in a heavy downpour early Monday afternoon as floats went along Eastern Parkway in Brooklyn, marking the return of the annual West Indian American Day Parade.

As one of the city’s most popular Labor Day events, the parade was estimated to draw 1 million people, but saw a much lower attendance because of the heavy rain.

“I think the weather kind of put a damper on the parade,” said Crown Heights resident Agnes Stanislas, who has attended the event the past 16 years and seen more people show up. “I’m thinking maybe later, if the rain gives us a break, we’ll probably see the crowd coming out.”

By around 1:30 p.m., the rain had stopped and the parade route soon became more crowded than before the rain started. Some spectators who had left earlier returned.

Early Monday, though, street vendors sat underneath umbrellas trying to protect their merchandise from getting wet. Some parade-goers stood under scaffolding and gazebos to wait out the rain, while many others left.

“Last year, it was nice and hot,” said Duane Crichlow, 45, of Bedford-Stuyvesant, “but today kind of sucks.”

Despite the weather, Crichlow, who was born in the United States and has family from Trinidad, said he was having fun.

“I just love how everybody represents where they’re from,” he said. “They’re just here to show everybody that wherever you’re from, you’re supposed to be loved and respected.”

Danny Mathew, 38, of Yonkers waited in a brightly colored poncho with a friend from Connecticut. They said the weather didn't dampen their mood. 

“We’ve really wanted to see this all year. The rain won’t stop us,” said Mathew, who is originally from India and came to the parade for the first time. “We love the music, the dance, the people. … It’s really good.”

Vendor Norman Piper said the rain hurt his business, Neighborhood Bakery.

“If this rain don’t go away, we don’t get no money,” he said. “Last year was good. We were all partying till 1 or 2 at night.”

Despite past violence at the festivities, Piper said he wasn't worried this year. In 2015, Carey Gabay, an aide to Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo, died from a stray bullet fired during a gang shootout at a pre-parade party. Police have since stepped up security at both the J’Ouvert festival, a predawn celebration that went on from 6 a.m. to 11 a.m., and the seven-hour parade that followed.

Similar to last year, NYPD deployed thousands of police officers at 13 checkpoints to screen spectators for weapons and alcoholic beverages entering the parade route along Eastern Parkway from Schenectady Avenue to Grand Army Plaza. Backpacks and other large bags were prohibited.

The department also temporarily added security cameras along the two-mile parade route to watch the crowds, and illuminated this year’s celebration with more than 300 light towers.

Sgt. Mary O’Donnell, a NYPD spokeswoman, said there were no reports of violent incidents related to the parade as of Monday afternoon. 

Kiara Joseph, 28, of Brooklyn, and her family started watching the parade when it started at 11 a.m. They were soaked even with umbrellas.

“I’m so excited that the rain has stopped,” Joseph said Monday afternoon. "And we can enjoy the parade in the little bit of sun."

Joseph's mother, Gladys Bruce, 49, is originally from Guyana and said she has attended the parade the past 15 years.

“I like them to see and experience my culture. It’s very important. I always like to bring my kids and grandkids," Bruce said, standing next to her daughter and 4-year-old granddaughter. 

The grand carnival parade was the culmination of weeklong activities celebrating Caribbean culture.

“It’s so important … that we get to come out and celebrate our culture,” said public advocate Jumaane Williams, a first-generation Brooklynite of Grenadian heritage. “Especially in this time with [President Donald] Trump, everybody needs to show how their culture informs America, and without it, America wouldn’t be who she is."

With Maya Rajamani and Li Cohen

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