Tuesday, February 28, 2006

Mardi Gras amid the ruins

New Orleans has not even come close to recovering from Hurricane Katrina and the massive flooding from smashed levees, but Mardi Gras happened nonetheless today.

I had an assignment to cover the queer angle for a string of gay newspapers.

About 189,000 of New Orleans' 462,269 residents have returned to the city six months after a total evacuation was ordered, Katrina hit, the levees broke and 80 percent of the city was submerged in up to 20 feet of water.

The massive flooding from the levee breaks destroyed or severely damaged tens of thousands homes. At present, only a third of the city's residences have reconnected to the electricity grid.

Sections of neighborhoods such as Lakeview, the Lower 9th Ward and Gentilly, where the storm surge smashed through adjacent levees with tsunami-like force, remain nearly completely depopulated.

Other people can't come home yet because of their children. Only 20 of the city's 124 public schools are open.

It was a much smaller Mardi Gras in the gay area of the French Quarter this year but spirits were clearly high and some people said they preferred not being crushed by the crowds.