- The Washington Times - Monday, February 27, 2006

Mardi Gras’vibe’ revivesshattered city

REUTERS NEWS AGENCY

NEW ORLEANS — Mardi Gras revelers yesterday crowded the sidewalks of storm-shattered New Orleans in a turnout that was lighter than years past but large enough to line the streets, fill the bars and remind people of better days.

Partiers with beers in hand jostled along Bourbon Street in the historic French Quarter while parades marched along avenues that six months ago were under water or plagued by looters in the aftermath of powerful Hurricane Katrina.

Police said crowds were smaller than usual as the Mardi Gras season neared its “Fat Tuesday” conclusion, but local residents said this year’s pre-Lenten celebration had brought people together in a special way after the shared tragedy of Katrina.

“It is slower, but better in quality. Anyone who is here is here because they want to be,” said Inez Quintanilla, bartender at Lafitte’s Blacksmith Bar in the French Quarter. “Everyone is definitely feeling the love. It’s a real good vibe.”

In previous years, a million people would cram into New Orleans for the climactic final weekend of Mardi Gras. This year, some officials estimated crowd at 400,000.

They said the turnout was not bad given that only about 190,000 people now live in the city that once had nearly a half-million residents. Large parts of the city still lie in ruins from Katrina’s floods.

Despite the reduced numbers, streets were jammed with cars, parking was at a premium and popular nightspots had long lines of people waiting to get in.

“Mardi Gras is usually hell, and this year is no different,” said New Orleans police Officer R.M. Ruiz. “It’s a pretty big turnout, actually, a lot like before.”

Along the parade route on St. Charles Avenue, ladders placed by spectators wanting a better view of the passing floats lined the streets as they do each year, while others sat in lawn chairs along the curb.

People wearing such things as alligator heads, jester hats and giant wigs with Mardi Gras colors of green, gold and purple screamed for beads as parade floats passed by and members of the local “krewes,” or clubs, tossed plastic trinkets — “throws” — to the crowd.

As they have throughout this Mardi Gras season, yesterday’s floats mostly carried satiric messages about the effects of Katrina — “Mold lives here” said one — but some struck a more serious note.

“Thanks to all who never forgot to care,” read another.

This year’s Mardi Gras has been cut to eight days of parades from the usual 12 because the city is strapped for cash and short of staff. Some New Orleanians thought it should not happen at all amid the devastation of Katrina, which struck on Aug. 29 and killed more than 1,300.

Ellis Joseph, a local drummer, said the citywide party has served its purpose, if the goal was to briefly forget the surrounding tragedy.

“They’re trying to act as if nothing happened,” he said. “It’s like a real big release.”


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