Mardi Gras revelers party in scarred New Orleans
NEW ORLEANS (Reuters) - Colorful parades rolled through New Orleans on Tuesday as thousands of revelers turned out to celebrate Mardi Gras in the city still scarred by Hurricane Katrina.
Drinking and dancing partiers jostled for sidewalk space to watch elaborately decorated floats as they passed near neighborhoods not fully recovered from the August 29, 2005, storm that flooded 80 percent of the city and killed more than 1,300 people.
The celebrants, many in costume, begged for beads -- or "throws" in New Orleans slang -- tossed from French Quarter balconies or by masked "krewe" members on floats.
"It's really beautiful. I feel like New Orleans is the last bohemia in America," said Carole Frances Lung, an artist from Los Angeles who was dressed up in a deer costume.
Mardi Gras, or Fat Tuesday, marks the end of the 12-day Carnival season that precedes Lent.
This was the third Mardi Gras since Katrina and each year city officials have touted the celebration as another step toward full recovery from the storm.
Many flooded-out homes and businesses are still abandoned, but experts say New Orleans now has about 70 percent of its pre-Katrina population of nearly half a million.
About 800,000 people were expected to swarm into the city and fill up 90 percent of the hotel rooms for the final days of Mardi Gras, tourism officials said.
"This one feels a lot like what we had pre-Katrina," Mayor Ray Nagin said in a television interview from his perch on the parade route. "It looks like we're continuing to get stronger every day and we're just going to have to keep working hard."
Violence in crime-ridden New Orleans has marred some recent Mardi Gras celebrations. Police said at least eight people were wounded in shootings near parade routes this year.