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Video: Ready or Not

March 1, 2006

Ash Wednesday, 5 p.m. New Orleans time, and the French Quarter is a very different place. The crowds that packed every block of Bourbon Street are long gone. Much of their trash is still here though — some of it in cans and bags along the curb, some swept in piles in the gutter, and the rest still in the road where it was dropped, stepped on, tripped over, and spilled on hour after boozy hour.

It smells here — stale and nasty, like old rotten beer, which makes sense, since that's what's probably causing the stench.

Many of the bars are open, but empty. I can hear spent kegs being tossed around (apparently the Coors Light truck is making a pickup) and I see a handful of tourists, couples mostly, now able to walk freely on the sidewalk for the first time in a week.

I was here at midnight on Fat Tuesday, mostly because I wanted to see the police parade marking the end of Mardi Gras. It was anticlimactic, and not nearly as dramatic as advertised.

I had been told a water truck would roll through first, powerfully blasting the garbage to the sides of the street, so the pavement would be safe to navigate by the officers on horseback who followed, in V formation, along with all of the other cops who worked the event. This was a chance for celebrants to thank the NOPD for its service, and also a way to insure all the revelers cleared out.

There was a water truck, but the blast was more like a trickle, and didn't have much affect on the trash in the street. Superintendent Warren Riley, a great guy who I interviewed at length a week ago, walked with a few dozen of his officers, and people did in fact move to the side, some applauding as the procession passed by.

But, there was no discernable end to the party. As soon as the police passed, the crowd filled right back in behind them. The cops made a couple more passes, every 30 minutes or so, and according to our overnight FOX crew, the Quarter started emptying out around 2 a.m.

Despite the trash, this year's Carnival has to be considered a success. Police kept things under control, hotels and bars and restaurants did brisk business, and the country is on notice that it's okay to visit here again, even if the city still has massive hurdles to clear.

Feb. 27, 2006

Bourbon Street is a mess. There's a thick, sticky layer of spilled beer, booze, and broken beads on the ground, mixed with other generic trash. Crews come through to sweep and bag the litter in the morning, but there aren't as many sanitation workers on the job this year. So, a lot of the Mardi Gras garbage isn't getting picked up, and the asphalt and brick isn't getting washed as well. People tell us in years past, the streets were well cleaned and washed every morning, before getting soiled every night.

* * *

I'm amazed at the fortitude of the revelers here. By the way, we've decided "revelers" is just a nice word for "drunks." Many of the folks here seem to drink from the moment they wake up until late into the night, and repeat the process daily. They also appear to be having a blast. Of course, the locals have plenty of excuses to get hammered, and in general the crowds in the French Quarter are extremely well-behaved. That is, unless you consider revealing your chest for a string of beads bad behavior, in which case there are a LOT of badly behaving people here.

* * *

This is my first Mardi Gras, and I've learned a lot about beads. People eagerly hoot and holler and wave and beg for them day and night (and no, not everyone reveals themselves for the beads). Some people are much more discriminating than others. The big, blinking beads attract a lot more attention and are coveted more than the plain, skinny strings. Also, some people will knock others down to catch the plastic trinkets, but others won't even bother to pick them up if they fail to make the catch. Of course, based on the condition of the street, that's probably a wise move.

Feb. 24, 2006

St. Bernard Parish is a mess. It's hard to believe it's been almost six months since Katrina hit here. From the look of things, it could've been yesterday.

Shopping centers and strip malls and fast food restaurants flooded during the storm, still sit empty and exposed on Jean Lafitte Parkway. Windows are blown out, roofs are damaged or gone, signs are broken, parking lots are still littered with debris.

Entire neighborhoods are in shambles. At least 40 percent of the 25,000 homes in the parish are unsalvageable, and all but ten of the rest are in need of significant repair.

We drove thru Arabi and Chalmette, stunned by the apparent lack of progress with cleanup and repairs. It's a sad-looking place, and the hardy locals who've stayed admit it's depressing, but on almost every block there are folks rebuilding their homes.

Robert Estopinel is hoping to set an example for his neighbors. He lost his home and possessions in the floods after the storms, and only got partial insurance reimbursement, but he's already spent more than $13,000 tearing down and carting off his broken home and cleaning his lot. He and his wife are living in a trailer on the property and will soon begin construction on their new home, even though the closest grocery store is now 40 minutes away.

"I don't have family anywhere else," he told me. "This is home. It'll always be home. And it'll come back. It may take a couple years, but St. Bernard will come back."

E-mail Rick


Rick,

Well, being your first you have no measure of previous events. After about 40 or so Fat Tuesdays I must say I believe Mayor Ray Nagin's observations are correct. By the looks of the crowds this is the "whitest" New Orleans Mardi Gras I remember.

Bill


Hi Rick,

My family and I toured St. Bernard Perish last week with a Ministry and I had the same feeling after only a few hours of looking around, I don’t know how people there can stay and look at the devastation day in and day out. It was depressing.

I totally understand people wanting to stay and rebuild because it is home, but the question that is still unanswered is what about the levee and why anyone would rebuild now if the levee is still a threat.

My prayers and thoughts will always be with those that I met in Chalmette and may it never happen to them again...

Tim


I think FOX should do some really good in-depth reporting about the anvil that hit Mississippi and the aftermath. I also think YOU would be the person to do the story justice. I'll be watching!

Nancy
Conyers, GA


Rick,

My family moved to New Orleans five years after Hurricane Camile hit the Mississippi Gulf Coast. Even after all that time, most of the area next to the beach in Biloxi and Gulfport looked as if had been only a few weeks since the hurricane, not several years. The sand on what had once been called some of the whitest beaches in the world were still a dingy light brown. It would be nearly two decades before the tourists came back to that part of the Gulf Coast
in the kinds of numbers that they did before Camile.

Given the scale of the devastation from Katrina and Rita, I suspect that it will be at least that long
before the worst affected areas of New Orleans and the Mississippi Gulf Coast recover to pre-Katrina activity again.

Michael
St. Louis, MO

Hi Rick,

I really liked the zipped-up jacket you wore on Studio B today in New Orleans. Can you tell me where I can get one for my husband?

Also, were the beads hanging on the post behind you yours or somebody else's?

Terri
Aliso Viejo, CA


Do you know Battalion 74 was in Pakistan helping post earthquake while their families were trying to recover from Katrina?

Do not forget our friends and soldiers on the coast...there are many bases down there.

Pat
Franklinville, NJ