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Last Updated: Wednesday, 1 March 2006, 08:19 GMT
New Orleans celebrates Mardi Gras
Carnival crowd throngs Bourbon Street, New Orleans
Bourbon Street was bustling with Mardi Gras revellers
Tens of thousands of revellers have helped New Orleans celebrate its first Mardi Gras since it was devastated by Hurricane Katrina six months ago.

While numbers appeared down on previous years, costumed celebrants still threw traditional beads to cheering crowds.

Many wore costumes mocking local and federal services, whose response to the hurricane has been much criticised.

New York saluted the city by lighting up the Empire State Building in purple, green and gold - the carnival colours.

New Orleans Mayor Ray Nagin said it was a "true honour".

The carnival marks the day before the Christian period of Lent begins, and is traditionally a raucous occasion.

Locals hoped the festivities would speed the city's recovery from the devastating flooding in August 2005.

Mr Nagin insisted visitor numbers were "absolutely comparable in size" to previous years.

'We're not down'

Carnival celebrations came to an end at midnight (0600GMT), although the party was expected to continue into the early hours in bars in the French Quarter.

During the parades, many revellers made reference to Hurricane Katrina in their costumes.

I can't go home but they can have a parade? That's ridiculous
Samuel Spears
Former resident

Some wrapped themselves in the blue tarpaulins used to cover damaged roofs and others dressed as the mould which is present in many flood-damaged houses.

One man wore a white blanket labelled "2,000lbs" and hung a model helicopter over his head to depict one of the sandbags dropped to try to prevent the floodwater spreading.

Another group dressed as blind men with walking sticks and dark glasses, and wore T-shirts that read "levee inspector" - a reference to the breached levees that led to much of the flooding.

Some of the floats showed signs of storm damage, with water marks and flaking paint.

Carnival participant Snooky Meyaski saw his St Bernard Parish home swamped after Katrina, but said he was all for the carnival.

"To pass it up would be to just tell the world, 'Hey, we're down for the count'," he said. "And we're not down for the count."

Continuing difficulties

Others have criticised the decision to go ahead - Mardi Gras has been cancelled before in times of national emergency.

Samuel Spears, now a refugee in Houston, said the footage of the festivities had made him more angry.

Harriet Robin wears a costume made from Meals Ready To Eat, which was served to hurricane refugees

"With them putting on Mardi Gras, without still having not addressed the basic human needs in this city, why that's just a slap in the face," he was quoted by the Associated Press news agency as saying.

"I can't go home, but they can have a parade? That's ridiculous."

Some say the carnival has highlighted continuing difficulties. Parades have passed through areas devastated by the flood, such as the Lower Ninth Ward.

It comes as an opinion poll published by Gallup showed that the majority of residents believe that local corruption, rather than a lack of government help, is the biggest obstacle to rebuilding New Orleans.

More than 1,300 people were killed across the states affected by Katrina - most of them in Louisiana.

The population of New Orleans fell from nearly 500,000 to less than 200,000.


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