Mardi Gras Marred by New Orleans Violence as Fat Tuesday Approaches

Chuckling as a man clad in a scanty pink negligee and matching panties strolled down Bourbon Street, tourists Bill and Sherry Jordan were undaunted by news that gunfire had marred this year's Mardi Gras celebration.

"We're not afraid," Sherry Jordan, from the north Louisiana town of Downsville, said Monday morning as she took in the French Quarter sights.

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Mardi Gras, or Fat Tuesday, is the often raucous end to the pre-Lenten Carnival season. Characterized by family friendly parades uptown and in the suburbs — and by heavy drinking and lots of near-nudity in the French Quarter — the celebration is highlighted by 12 days of parades and parties.

It appears to have bounced back strongly since Hurricane Katrina flooded more than 80 percent of the city in August 2005.

But marring the celebration this year have been sporadic reports of violence. On Wednesday, a stray bullet shattered a hotel window and struck and wounded a tour guide standing inside.

Friday night, police said, a man was wounded by gunfire near a parade route that skirts the crime-plagued Central City neighborhood; Saturday night, shortly after the Endymion parade had passed, five people were hit by gunfire downtown.

"The violence that happens along the parade routes here and in the city (is) not surrounding parades, it's not surrounding parade goers," said Sgt. Joe Narcisse of the New Orleans Police Department. He said most of the violence is related to drugs or involves people with personal grudges.

Spectator Winter Williams agreed.

"If you're at Mardi Gras and you get shot, it's because you're doing something you shouldn't. I'm not worried at all," Williams, 34, said Monday as she awaited the parades near her tent on the St. Charles streetcar tracks.

Mardi Gras crowd estimates hovered around 1 million in the years before Katrina. They reached 800,000 last year. Police declined to project how big the crowd will be on Tuesday, but hotel occupancy was expected to exceed 90 percent for the long weekend that ends on Ash Wednesday.

Sissy and Mark Johnson were wary about the violence reports. The couple reside in Abita Springs, about an hour's drive north of New Orleans. They moved there from suburban Metairie after Katrina.

"We don't come down here nearly as often as we used to," Sissy Johnson said as the two sipped White Russians in the French Quarter. "It's really sad. Crime is just too bad."