Mardi Gras: A Party Surrounded by Devastation

ByALEX STONE

Feb. 22, 2006 -- -- Mardi Gras parties in New Orleans are well under way although the biggest celebrations will not happen until next week.

Less than six months after Hurricane Katrina ripped through the city, officials have spent millions of dollars cleaning up to present a positive image for thousands of tourists and reporters who are arriving for Mardi Gras.

While the thumping noises of loud music can be heard around the French Quarter and the cat and mouse games partiers play to get beads have begun, there is a very different scene just a few blocks away from Bourbon Street. Outside the Downtown District many neighborhoods have received little or no attention since Hurricane Katrina struck.

"We lived out in an area down St. Claude and it's just nobody's out there. It's just deserted," said New Orleans resident Lucy Lablanc. She is now living downtown where she says there are more opportunities for work and housing.

Many of the homes in New Orleans that are still standing have tarps over their roofs. Construction workers say it could take years for them to get to all of the houses in need of new roofs. "Seems like only half the commercial businesses are open because they're still washed out inside," said a roofer who flew in from Ohio to begin doing work around the city.

On Bourbon Street, the neon signs are lit and the "daiquiri-to-go" stands are open. Now all business owners can do is wait to see if large crowds arrive. Shop owners say while the crowds have been growing, fewer people are celebrating, so far, compared to past years.

Despite a lower turnout, Hurricane Katrina merchandise is proving to be popular. Stores that line the French Quarter are selling T-shirts that have all kinds of vulgar messages on them about the storm. They also have some, slightly more tame, shirts that say things like "I survived Hurricane Katrina and all I got was this lousy T-shirt." Shop owners predict they may sell more commemorative T-shirts this year than Mardi Gras beads.

City officials believe the largest crowds will likely begin arriving Friday night for Mardi Gras celebrations that will continue through Fat Tuesday.

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