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Katrina Scores Direct Hit on Upbeat Spirit of Old New Orleans

N'Awlins -- as people in the historic city of wrought-iron balconies, extemporaneous jazz music, and delectable cuisine prefer to call New Orleans -- always exuded joie de vivre -- the joy of life -- seasoned with a dash of languid manana. The "Big Easy," as Louisiana's largest city has long been known, would deal with troubles tomorrow. Today, let the good times roll!

A gracious, exuberant mélange of cultures, including French and Spanish and Old South white, African and Caribbean black, and aristocratic Creole, N'Awlins threw more parades than there are days in the year. And in columned mansions uptown, termite-infested cottages around town, and on the streets during Spring Carnival season, it knew how to party. The preferred tourist drink in N'Awlins' was the "hurricane." In the plentiful bars of the French Quarter -- the city's oldest neighborhood -- people would laugh and raise a souvenir glass of this potent, rum-and-fruit-juice drink in a mocking toast to the real hurricanes that always seemed to blow just past.

As for doomsday scenarios of killer storm surges from the river that snakes around their city, or the warm Gulf of Mexico to the south, or looming Lake Pontchartrain to the north, New Orleanians would scoff that they hadn't happened before and weren't likely to start now.

Then, in a nightmare, came Katrina, an epic hurricane, and two levees gave way, sending in the deluge. A million people had fled, and were kept away. Tens of thousands more stayed, survived, and became refugees seeking higher ground. Hundreds of others stayed and died. News crews and rescuers and money poured in.

Many who cherish N'Awlins say it will rise again, vibrant as ever. But it's doubtful anyone who slogged through its sodden and somber streets in Katrina's wake will ever again raise a "hurricane" in a toast to a coming storm.