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Storms Hang Heavy Over Mardi Gras Festivities

The last big weekend of the annual Carnival season drew healthy crowds to two Mardi Gras parades on Saturday, but a threat of evening showers pushed one of the city's biggest and glitziest processions back a day.

Some had stayed out overnight in tents or on sofas to claim prime turf to watch the parades staged by private clubs, called krewes.

Alfred Washington, 50, a New Orleans native and a bassist in a local band, said the parades were good for the city ravaged by Hurricane Katrina.

"We have hurricanes down here all the time. Mardi Gras is going to go on. It's part of our culture. It is us," Washington said as the Krewe of Iris headed down St. Charles Avenue, with the Krewe of Tucks behind them.

"It kept our minds off our worries for a while. After this, we'll get back to work gutting houses and stuff," he said.

The celebrity-studded Krewe of Endymion's parade with elaborate floats through the Uptown area, which was relatively unscathed by Katrina's floods, was put off until Sunday because of the threat of evening thunderstorms. It will roll after the Krewe of Bacchus, another "super krewe," police said.

Ed Muniz, Endymion's captain, told WWL-TV that between 500-600 of his 2,200-member krewe live out of town post-Katrina and likely would miss Sunday's parade because of scheduled flights that leave before its start.

In suburban Metairie, the Krewe of Isis also put off its evening parade until Sunday, which was expected to be sunny and breezy.

But in the flood-ravaged Gentilly neighborhood, about 50 members of the ragtag Krewe of Dreux set out on their 34th annual parade. They gathered in the neighborhood's Bacchus Lounge, a shell of its former self because it had to be gutted after Katrina flooded it to the ceiling.

Nearly all the Krewe of Dreux members are living somewhere else in Louisiana or another state because of the storm. Several were costumed with blue tarp, like the tarpaulins that cover damaged roofs, and their route went past piles of debris and dead trees and shrubs.

One woman at the Bacchus Lounge, Patty Shore, wearing a black cape emblazoned with a giant hurricane icon, said she used to live in Gentilly and wasn't going to let Katrina's aftermath prevent her annual return.

"I think it's more important than ever," she said. "This is who we are, and this is our home."

This is the last big weekend of the annual Carnival season, culminating on Mardi Gras, or Fat Tuesday, with parades and street parties in and around the city. Before Katrina, dozens of parades were held for nearly two weeks leading up to Mardi Gras. This year's parade schedule has been abbreviated and the routes consolidated.

Still, tourism officials and merchants hope this year's event will gin up an economy reeling since Katrina hit on Aug. 29, flooding 80 percent of the city and dispersing more than two-thirds of the population.

Visitors are often estimated at more than 1 million for Mardi Gras. Authorities expected fewer this year but were uncertain of how many. A shortage of hotel rooms was one problem, the gloomy weather was another.