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Hundreds of hot-air balloons launch over New Mexico’s largest city after COVID-19 hiatus

  • JERRY LARSON/WACO TRIBUNE-HERALD VIA AP / 2019
                                Hot-air balloons fly over Albuquerque, N.M., during the Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta. The balloon festival is returning after a pandemic hiatus with plans to launch about 540 hot-air balloons in a stunning visual spectacle.

    JERRY LARSON/WACO TRIBUNE-HERALD VIA AP / 2019

    Hot-air balloons fly over Albuquerque, N.M., during the Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta. The balloon festival is returning after a pandemic hiatus with plans to launch about 540 hot-air balloons in a stunning visual spectacle.

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. >> Hundreds of hot-air balloons created a colorful tapestry against a blue sky today as New Mexico’s largest city began a nine-day annual event that was canceled last year due to the coronavirus pandemic.

The 7 a.m. mass ascension was the first of five scheduled for the Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta, a heavily photographed event that draws visitors from around the world.

The 2020 fiesta was canceled as a precaution against the spread of COVID-19.

Organizers said over 540 balloons were registered for this year’s event. The 2019 fiesta drew nearly 600 balloons from across the U.S. and 17 other countries.

Fiesta organizers said they won’t be checking for vaccination cards but noted precautions are being taken to preserve social distancing and provide access to hand sanitizer and hand-washing stations.

Indoor dining for balloon pilots and VIPs has been canceled.

More than 80 balloons that come in special ornate or cartoonish shapes will be disbursed throughout the launch field, rather than clustered together — encouraging crowds to spread out, Fiesta spokesman Tom Garrity said.

Scheduled events include a chainsaw carving display, fireworks, sky divers, musical stage performances and a strolling mariachi band.

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