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New Orleans Spirit Upbeat as Recovery From Hurricane Continues


U.S. President George Bush met with the leaders of Mexico and Canada in New Orleans earlier this week, giving that city much needed attention as it continues to recover nearly three years after it was devastated by Hurricane Katrina. Increased activity at the city's port, fifth largest in the United States by volume, and a boom in the oil and gas industry in the nearby Gulf of Mexico have helped. And, as VOA's Greg Flakus reports from New Orleans, the city's tourism sector is also on the rebound.

Pirates recently took over New Orleans, but instead of pillaging the city they spent their dubloons, or rather their dollars, at local hotels and restaurants.

There were more than 700 pirate impersonators from all around the country in town for the pirate convention. Men and women who probably maintain normal lives and careers back home decked themselves out in 17th century pirate garb and roamed the streets of the French Quarter, perhaps seeking the spirit of pirate Jean Lafite, who called this area home some 200 years ago.

Johnny Redbone, from California, says this is an ideal city for pirates.

"It kind of fits the pirate persona, having a good time, partying and wenching and drinking, It is a pirate's life for me and this is New Orleans, so it fits!," he said.

The pirate convention is just one of many events drawing people to the city known as the Big Easy this year. Tourism officials say last year was the best they have had since before Katrina struck and they expect this year to be even better.

Even President Bush noticed the up tick in morale when he was here at a luncheon with local civic leaders Tuesday.

"My impression is that there is a lot more hope now than there was, even a year ago. People have a little different bounce in their step," he said.

There is also plenty of music in the air, befitting the city where jazz was born. This weekend thousands of people will pour into New Orleans for the annual Jazz and Heritage Festival to see and hear such big stars as Stevie Wonder, Billy Joel and the Neville Brothers.

Another thing lifting civic spirits is the recent re-opening of the St. Charles Avenue streetcar line, a favorite with tourists and locals alike, according to Mary Beth Romig of the Convention and Visitors Bureau.

"People love to get on and ride and see the avenue and the beauty of the avenue, so it was a boost economically for the regional transit authority, but also it is important for New Orleanians to be able to take the street car to and from work. It helped in the commute for locals, very important. It was a great celebration the day it came back on line," she said.

But, while the economy is showing marked signs of improvement, Romig says Katrina's effects linger.

"New Orleans remains a tale of two cities. We still have a long way to go in some of our outlying neighborhoods. Some neighborhoods are coming back quicker than others. I think we will see a different New Orleans, but hopefully a better New Orleans, even if it is a little smaller, it will be a better New Orleans because we will have learned a lot of lessons," she said.

Another sign of the city's continuing recovery is the plan by developer Donald Trump to build a combination residence and hotel tower in the heart of the business district, at a site now occupied by a parking lot. Once completed late next year, the 70-story, 215-meter building will be the tallest in New Orleans and in the entire state of Louisiana.

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