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New Orleans Plans to Hold Mardi Gras Despite Devastation From Hurricane Katrina

The City of New Orleans has announced that the celebration of Carnival, known as Mardi Gras, will be held in February despite the devastation caused by Hurricane Katrina. The decision was made even though 75 percent of the city's population is scattered around the country. City leaders say that putting on Mardi Gras is essential for the city's rebirth. VOA's Margaret Kennedy has details about how the preparations are coming along.

National Guardsmen have been giving out relief supplies for weeks outside a factory. Inside the buildings, people are also working on getting the city back to normal after the hurricane. Artisans are putting finishing touches on parade floats that will roll down the street during Mardi Gras 2006.

This is Mardi Gras World, started by Blaine Kern. For decades, his business has been building the largest and most elaborate floats for the famous parades.

"We were three weeks ahead of schedule, but now we're two or three weeks behind,” said Mr. Kern. “But we're going to make it up and give everybody a good show."

Mardi Gras will be much shorter and smaller than usual. Before the hurricane, it was a billion dollar event, a mainstay of the tourist economy. Other cities around the world have a season of carnival before the Christian time of Penance in Lent. Here, the observance is seen as a celebration of life reflecting the soul of the city.

Day by day, the French Quarter has been coming back to life. An estimated 125,000 to 150,000 people are in the city, far below its previous population of almost half a million. There are few takers for tours. Many people here are contractors and relief workers.

At the Market Café, owner John Tsoupolis is remodeling. "I think by Mardi Gras, we hope -- I don't know -- if we get 55 to 60 per cent, it's going to make me feel good."

Arthur Hardy publishes a guide that explains the events and history of Mardi Gras. He predicts a depth of emotion for the observation this year.

"Now, since it's the recovery after the storms, I think it is going to be most like being in Times Square the first New Year's Eve after 9/11," Mr. Hardy told us.

Mardi Gras is organized and supported by private groups called krewes. Some of the krewes are unhappy that they will not be allowed to parade along their usual routes in now-destroyed neighborhoods. And, some displaced residents complain that this is no time for festivity at all.

Bill Grace, who is on the Mayor's Committee for Mardi Gras, disagrees. "One of the reasons we want to have Mardi Gras this year is to let the world know that New Orleans is back and open for business. That's February 28th of 2006, so everyone should put that date down on their calendar and come on to the City of New Orleans for the New Orleans Mardi Gras in 2006.