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At Mardi Gras, Politics Fuels Revelers
Published on Wednesday, February 21, 2007 by the Associated Press
At Mardi Gras, Politics Fuels Revelers
by Michael Kunzelman
 
Mardi Gras spectators couldn't miss the anger and frustration Jeff Friedland and others feel about the slow pace of Hurricane Katrina recovery - it was the theme of their costumes in the second Carnival since the storm.

Friedland joined the celebrations Tuesday in a house painter's jumpsuit - wrapped in red tape.


Hurricane Katrina - Storm of The Century Aug. 29, 2005 - New Orleans, Louisiana, USA - Hurricane Katrina was an extraordinarily powerful and deadly storm. One of the five deadliest hurricanes to ever strike the United States, with 1,420 deaths, Katrina was also the costliest natural disaster, amassing over $75 billion in damages. Katrina is surpassed by the Galveston, Texas hurricane in 1900 that claimed at least 8,000 fatalities. Hurricane Katrina's storm surge was what made the storm so deadly. Levees separating Lake Pontchartrain from New Orleans were breeched by the surge, which resulted in the flooding of about 80 percent of the city. Many survivors found themselves homeless, like Henry Rhodes, who sits in a New Orleans Police Department boat after being rescued in the 7th Ward on North Miro Street.
Picture (c) GARY CORONADO/Palm Beach Post/ZUMA Press
"Abysmal. Uncaring. Bordering on immoral," Friedland, 57, said of his more than 17 months of haggling with five different insurance companies and three mortgage companies over damage to his home and two rental properties he owns in New Orleans.

Tourists couldn't help but notice. Annie Clowes, 43, of Newburyport, Mass., found the political-themed costumes more amusing than the usual flesh-baring ones for which Mardi Gras is famed. She said it's still impossible to celebrate Fat Tuesday in New Orleans without thinking of Katrina.

"They didn't let it get them down. They still have Mardi Gras," she said.

A popular target for Katrina-themed revelers' sly jabs was Gov. Kathleen Blanco's grant program that offers eligible homeowners up to $150,000 in compensation to get back into their homes. Checks have been slow to come, say critics.

Allen Bender dressed as a housewife with a bathrobe and curlers in her hair and held a fake, oversized check for $150,000 signed by "Goobernor K. Blanco." He was flanked by two friends wearing jackets that said "LRA Prize Patrol," a reference to the storm-spawned Louisiana Recovery Authority.

"It's a hit this year," he said of his costume. "Last year we dressed as insurance adjusters from hell."

Bender said his grant application was rejected because it concluded that his $70,000 flood insurance payment should have covered all the damage to his home. But Bender said he only got half of what he needed to rebuild.

The annual free-for-all ended at midnight when police on foot or horseback - followed by street sweepers - marched down Bourbon Street declaring Carnival over.

Bourbon Street was clean again by 6:30 a.m., said Sidney Torres IV, owner of SDT Waste and Debris.

Far from the revelry, three people were shot and one man was stabbed to death in three separate incidents. Police Supt. Warren Riley said all three attacks were still being investigated, but he said he doubted any were related or had anything to do with the celebrations.

"This is an urban city," Riley said late Tuesday. "Until now, things went extremely well, with an estimated 700- to 800,000 people in the city over the weekend."

The crowds appeared larger than last year, when an estimated 700,000 people were in the city for the final weekend and Mardi Gras. The city's 30,000 hotel rooms were 95 percent occupied, according to Fred Sawyers, president of the Greater New Orleans Hotel & Lodging Association.

On Tuesday morning, Mayor Ray Nagin rode a horse down St. Charles Avenue, urging tourists to spend money. "We need the tax revenue bad," he said.

In addition to the political costumes, revelers' outfits ranged from the glamorous to the satirical. Five women dressed as NASA astronauts wearing diapers.

Corinne Branigan, 40, wore a brown T-shirt with the slogan "New Orleans. Established 1718, Re-established 8-29-05."

Last year's Mardi Gras seemed too soon, Branigan said. But this year everything felt just right.

"This is everything that's great about New Orleans rolled into three days," she said. "Food, music - we've got the best marching bands in the country. It's like a big neighborhood. Everything else is forgotten for the time being."

© 2007 The Associated Press

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