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Mardi Gras Season Starts With Parades in New Orleans

The first major parades of the Mardi Gras season rolled through the streets of New Orleans Saturday. The celebrations will culminate on Tuesday, February 28, the last day before the Christian Lenten season of fasting begins. This year the party is also therapy for a city still recovering from Hurricane Katrina.

As giant decorative floats passed down the streets, people shouted with glee and grabbed colorful plastic beads thrown from the floats by masked figures. Many of the floats had themes that related to the hurricane that struck the area on August 29 of last year, causing floods that left most of the city uninhabitable to this day. One float portrayed the federal government as Nero, the ancient Roman leader who is said to have fiddled while Rome burned. Others poked fun at national and local officials and the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA).

Although the crowds along the parade route were small compared to years past, the people who did show up cheered with enthusiasm. Many said this was a therapeutic event for them and their city. came to the parade route with his daughter and granddaughter.

"I think the significance of New Orleans this year is to just keep the tradition going and to keep the heart, to build back the heart of the city of New Orleans," he said.

Prestridge says he has bringing his family to the same spot on the parade route for the past six years, arriving hours earlier than the start time to beat the crowds. This year there are no crowds, just clusters of people strung out along the street on either side. But what is noticeable is there are so many families.

Troy Prestridge says that is what Mardi Gras is all about for the people who live here.

"It is family oriented and it is kind of like a vacation for us when we come down here," he said. "We meet people from all over the United States that come to this area. You meet someone new every year and year-to-year they come back, usually."

Nearby, watches the parade with her parents, her husband and son. She says at first she was doubtful, as some others still are, as to whether it would be appropriate to have Mardi Gras at a time when less than half the city's residents have returned, much of the city remains uninhabitable and there are few hotel rooms available for tourists. But, she says, this celebration will help revive the city's spirit.

"I think it is going to remind the world why we love living here and that is the most important thing. Whether tourists come or not does not affect me personally. I just want to be here," said Teresa Stein.