Last updated: February 19. 2013 6:39PM - 142 Views

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NEW YORK?? Victims of Superstorm Sandy in New York and elsewhere in the Northeast were comforted Thursday by kinder weather, free holiday meals and ?? for some ?? front row seats to the annual Macy??s Thanksgiving Day Parade.

??It means a lot,? said Karen Panetta, of the hard-hit Broad Channel section of Queens, as she sat in a special viewing section set aside for New Yorkers displaced by the storm.

??We??re thankful to be here and actually be a family and to feel like life??s a little normal today,? she said.

The popular Macy??s parade, attended by more than 3 million people and watched by 50 million on TV, included such giant balloons as Elf on a Shelf and Papa Smurf, a new version of Hello Kitty, Buzz Lightyear, Sailor Mickey Mouse and the Pillsbury Doughboy.

Real-life stars included singer Carly Rae Jepsen and Rachel Crow of ??The X Factor.?

The young, and the young at heart, were delighted by the sight and sound of marching bands, performers and, of course, the giant balloons. The sunny weather quickly pushed the temperature past 50 degrees.

Alan Batt and his 11-year-old twins, Kyto and Elina, took in the parade at the end of the route, well away from the crowd and seemingly too far away for a good view.

But they had an advantage: Two tall stepladders they hauled over from their apartment eight blocks away ?? one for each twin.

??We??re New Yorkers,? the 65-year-old Batt said. ??We know what we??re doing.?

With the height advantage, ??I get to see everything!? Kyto said.

Mayor Michael Bloomberg was reflective Thursday as he praised police, firefighters, armed services personnel, sanitation workers and volunteers involved in the storm response. His office was coordinating the distribution of 26,500 meals at 30 sites in neighborhoods affected by Sandy, and other organizations also were pitching in.

The disaster zones on Staten Island were flooded ?? this time with food and volunteers from Glen Rock, N.J. organized using social media.

??We had three carloads of food,? said volunteer Beth Fernandez. ??The whole town of Glen Rock pitched in. ... It??s really cool. It??s my best, my favorite Thanksgiving ever.?

On Long Island, the Long Beach nonprofit Surf For All hosted a Thanksgiving event that fed 1,200 people.

Carol Gross, 72, a Long Beach native, said she went to volunteer but was turned away because of a surplus of helpers.

Chicago, Philadelphia and Detroit were among the other big cities hosting parades.

Among the scheduled highlights were a Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey spectacular in Chicago; Phillies star Ryan Howard and Miss America 2012 Laura Kaeppeler in Philadelphia; and a group of 2012 U.S. Olympic champions in Detroit.

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