NEW ORLEANS – Thousands of people, some in tears, streamed into the Audubon Zoo on Friday, the first day it was open since Hurricane Katrina.
"It's a city without kids and families, and a city without kids and families is a city without soul and heart," said Ron Forman, president of Audubon Nature Institute, which operates the zoo. "So we just thought it was critical to get the thing open for Thanksgiving weekend."
The reopening was so emotional for many visitors that the zoo decided to post huggers at the front gates, Forman said.
"As people walk in, they're crying," he said. "This is a time of sadness in this city."
Like much in the city, the zoo has struggled to regain its footing after the hurricane. Most of the animals are fine, although two otters and a raccoon did not survive, and about 2,000 trees were destroyed. The zoo laid off about 600 workers.
Audubon also operates the Aquarium of the Americas in the French Quarter, where about 10,000 animals died because of the hurricane. The aquarium and its Entergy IMAX Theater will open next summer at the earliest, Forman said.
Another Audubon facility, the Louisiana Nature Center, may never reopen, he said. The opening for a new addition to the institute — an insectarium — has been pushed back to 2007.