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Mardi Gras a chance for locals to forget Katrina

Children sat atop ladders yelling for beads  Sunday as two of the Carnival season’s biggest and glitziest parades rolled through the fun-starved, storm-damaged city of New Orleans.
/ Source: The Associated Press

Children sat atop ladders yelling for beads and other trinkets Sunday as two of the Carnival season’s biggest and glitziest parades rolled through this fun-starved city.

By nightfall, the warm, sunny weather had chilled a bit, but that didn’t stop the crowds — old, young and of all races — from partying.

In the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, which flooded most of the city last summer, people seemed a bit nicer — and less apt to lace their words with profanities — than in previous years, an annual vendor said.

“Before, the people were more aggressive; now I see there is more passion, more calm,” said Miryan Velasquez, 60, who sells alligator on hot dog buns, lemonade and shrimp po-boys, a quintessential New Orleans sandwich on French bread.

While some revelers noted crowds so deep that people could barely move, they were thinner than in years past.

Velasquez said her business was down by at least half.

“What can you expect, it’s Katrina!” she said.

Pat Kaschalk, a teacher in New Orleans, estimated the crowds at three-quarters of the usual numbers.

“It was actually possible to catch something this year,” she said. “We were able to get close to the floats and make eye contact with the riders. Normally we wouldn’t be able to do that.”

A threat of thunderstorms Saturday prompted a one day delay of the Krewe of Endymion’s parade, which followed the Krewe of Bacchus through the Uptown neighborhood on Sunday night. Three smaller parades were held in the afternoon.

The sunny weather and party atmosphere provided a sense of optimism for New Orleans six months after Katrina flooded 80 percent of the city and dispersed more than two-thirds of the population.

Jennifer Smith of Austin, Texas screams for Mardi Gras beads thrown from a balcony on Bourbon Street in the French Quarter of New Orleans February 25, 2006. Due to Hurricane Katrina many of the Mardi Gras parades throughout the New Orleans Metro area will be shorter and fewer. REUTERS/Sean GardnerSean Gardner / X01973

“I just hope the rest of the world doesn’t think New Orleans is OK because we’re having Mardi Gras,” said Cynthia Perkins, who lost her home in the flood.

While some decried the city’s plan to hold Mardi Gras celebrations while tens of thousands of residents were displaced, Ebony Jenkins, who lost home, car and possessions in the flood, was in a festive mood nonetheless.

“My take on it is: Let it roll,” she said as she waited for floats and masked riders to fill the street and shed a rain of doubloons and beads on the throngs.

“Mardi Gras is just Mardi Gras, period,” she stressed. “You can’t take Mardi Gras from the N.O.”

The annual Carnival season winds up on Mardi Gras, or Fat Tuesday, which is marked by parades and street parties through the city. In stricter days, the Carnival season was the last chance to use up all the fat in the larder and kick it up a bit before the austerity and fasting of Lent.