Sunday, October 16, 2005

NEW ORLEANS (AP) — Jeanie Reavis has come for Mardi Gras and Jazzfest and Creole Christmas, dozens of trips to the city she loves. She will head to New Orleans again today, undeterred by the destruction she witnessed on her TV screen from 700 miles away.

She said she has to.

“Everyone thinks I’m crazy, but everyone that knows me knew that as soon as it was open I’d be getting down there,” said the 54-year-old secretary from Loami, Ill., near Springfield. “I really need to see it.”

With the French Quarter, the city’s main tourist draw, spared from most of Hurricane Katrina’s wrath, visitors are beginning to trickle back and others are vowing to keep upcoming reservations.

Mrs. Reavis will visit New Orleans with her husband, as they have more than 30 times, though this time will be more a pilgrimage than a vacation.

“For me, New Orleans is my favorite place in the world,” Mrs. Reavis said. “My only reservation is that I’m sure I’m going to cry when I see it.”

She may be surprised.

Bourbon Street is already alive with drink-guzzling, bead-tossing, music-blaring action, though much of it is generated by relief and reconstruction workers, reporters, locals and military personnel, who represent a big chunk of New Orleans’ current population.

“The city’s coming back to life,” said Treila Griffin, 41, of St. Joseph, Mo., enjoying a cigarette and a drink served in one of the city’s trademark cups shaped like a hand grenade. “They’re not going to let it take them down, that’s for sure.”

The dichotomy of the city is stark.

Revelers enjoy a weekend night at a strip club or on the balcony of a bar while other residents return to neighborhoods nearly washed away by the storm. Restaurants that are open grapple with inadequate staffing and use paper and plastic instead of china and glass, while some New Orleanians debate bulldozing their homes or whether to return at all.

Kim Priez, vice president of tourism for the New Orleans Convention and Visitors Bureau, said the city is reopening officially to travelers on Jan. 1, though she frequently encounters those who can’t wait.

“It’s not going to be quite where we used to be,” Miss Priez said. “But if they know that, then we’re welcoming them.”

Miss Priez notes that businesses are reopening slowly, but many remain shuttered. Visitors who previously made reservations are advised to call hotels to be sure they have reopened.

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