NEW ORLEANS – French Quarter bar owners frustrated with the slow pace of recovery in New Orleans (search) won a partial victory Friday when the city pushed back its curfew from midnight to 2 a.m., allowing a little more partying into the wee hours.
Bars on or near Bourbon Street (search) had been threatening to defy the midnight curfew, complaining it was putting a damper on the famously raucous neighborhood and the city's economy, too.
City Hall announced that the streets in recovering neighborhoods will be off limits to pedestrians and vehicles between 2 a.m. and 6 a.m. The city put businesses on notice, however, that violators of the extended curfew could be slapped with a summons and could lose their liquor licenses.
"As we move forward with rebuilding, we are taking steps to accommodate business while also ensuring public safety," Mayor Ray Nagin (search) said in announcing the relaxing of the curfew.
Under normal circumstances, the French Quarter (search) parties well into the morning. Business owners have been eager to let the good times roll again.
New Orleans' traffic flow also took a big step forward Friday with the reopening — two weeks ahead of schedule — of one of the twin spans that carry Interstate 10 across Lake Pontchartrain. The other is expected to reopen in January.
Other elements of hurricane recovery fell behind schedule Friday. Officials had hoped to close the shelter at the River Center exhibition hall in Baton Rouge, but problems finding housing for people in wheelchairs and others with special needs forced the shelter to stay open one more night.
The grim task of recovering bodies, meanwhile, continued in Mississippi, which raised its Katrina death toll to 224 Friday after two more bodies were pulled from the rubble of Gulf Coast homes. In Louisiana (search), 1,035 people died from the storm, and 18 died in three other states.
The French Quarter was largely spared by Hurricane Katrina, and many out-of-town disaster-relief crews — along with law officers, soldiers, reporters and even tourists — have been crowding its bars and restaurants, despite the midnight curfew decreed by the mayor Oct. 6.
Bar owners said the curfew was largely ignored and infrequently enforced until this week. Many bar owners attributed the crackdown to the furor that followed the videotaped beating of a 64-year-old man by police officers last Saturday night.
Police spokesman Capt. Marlon Defillo denied enforcement had been stepped up in recent days. He said the curfew was imposed because police and other departments are not yet ready to resume full round-the-clock operations.
Bar owners argued that the French Quarter is one section of the city where the curfew could be waived or at least pushed back, noting that the neighborhood is an important part of the city's tourist-dependent economy.
"I feel like what's happening is we're talking out of both sides of the mouth," said Jim Monaghan, owner of Molly's at the Market. "They want us to rebuild the city but do it their way."