The annual carnival celebration known as Mardi Gras came to an end in New Orleans Tuesday with parades and parties. Crowds were much larger than last year and local officials say this has helped the city's efforts to recover from the effects of Hurricane Katrina, which struck the area in August, 2005. VOA's Greg Flakus has more from our bureau in Houston.
This was the second Mardi Gras celebration in New Orleans since Katrina and local officials and business leaders say it was a success both in terms of the money it brought in and in symbolizing the "Big Easy's" comeback progress.
New Orleans business owner and property developer Kevin Kelly spent the last few days throwing a party at his house along the parade route on St Charles Avenue, in the city's warehouse district. Speaking with VOA by telephone, he described this year's Mardi Gras crowds as large and happy.
"Sunday was the largest crowd ever. I mean it was just huge crowds and it was a nice attitude. People are starting to see things starting to happen," Kelly said.
The population of New Orleans remains at less than half of what it was before Katrina, but Kelly says the people who have returned are determined to recover what they had before the disaster. He says most people have taken steps on their own without waiting for the government to help. One problem vexing the city and its image is crime. Since the beginning of the new year, 27 people have been murdered in New Orleans, nine of them in one seven-hour span late last week.
But Kevin Kelly notes that most of these crimes do not happen anywhere near the French Quarter, downtown or the St. Charles Avenue area, where most tourists go.
"Your problem is going to come if you are living in the typical crime areas, which are the housing project areas and very low-income areas," he said. "That is where the drug problems are."
Many local citizens are upset by the crime wave and last month several thousand of them marched on city hall demanding that Mayor Ray Nagin and police officials do more to get the situation under control.
But Kevin Kelly says the crime problem has not slowed down investment in the city and the rapid increase in real estate development, some of it spurred by U.S. government programs to encourage revitalization of the city.
"We have developers coming in from Germany and London and all over the United States and I am surprised at the activities," Kelly said. "The federal government has set up some very good inducements to help development happen. I think these special tax credits are bringing in people."
Much of New Orleans is below sea level and the city is protected by levees, some of which broke after Katrina struck. Around 80 percent of the city was flooded as a result and many of the worst hit areas remain disaster zones still. But the higher areas along the Mississippi river embankment and downtown recovered quickly and civic leaders say business is now thriving there.