METAIRIE, La. — “Oh, look at the little rescue helicopter,” Mary Ockman said during a trip to the mall last week.
The toy helicopter, with a rescuer clinging to a survivor and both hanging below the copter by a thread, circled a miniature “Katrina Ridge.” This replica of a hurricane-ravaged community was complete with damaged New Orleans-style houses, battered roofs patched with blue tarps, tiny piles of trash and a little discarded refrigerator with the scrawled warning “You Loot — We Shoot.”
“You know what’s missing? Little soldiers with M-16s,” said Miss Ockman, a hurricane survivor who had come to Lakeside Shopping Center near New Orleans to buy Christmas presents.
The elaborate mall display — which children encircle in a small train after sitting on Santa Claus’ lap — has become a Christmas story itself in this first, strange holiday season since the region was devastated by Hurricane Katrina.
After some complaints, the mall management took down the display. That prompted a much larger complaint from shoppers who wanted it back up.
“When we removed the display, we did not anticipate the overwhelming public outcry for its return,” the Lakeside management says in a sign near where Santa Claus sits. The management said it received hundreds of responses in favor of the display 50-1.
“We all need a little humor,” said Yvonne Yancovich, who lives in suburban New Orleans. The display depicts “part of our Christmas this year. It’s what our city is like this year.”
“Katrina Ridge” does have little Christmas trees on the porches of some houses and a Santa Claus at a Christmas tree lot with an “Open” sign at the gate. And around a bend in the tracks, the children see a more traditional holiday display with presents and candy canes and reindeer.