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Revelers usher in Mardi Gras in New Orleans, but sporadic violence mars festivities
Mardi Gras New Orle 5507466
A float rolls along Napoleon Avenue during the Krewe of Orpheus Mardi Gras parade in New Orleans, Monday, Feb. 4, 2008. Carnival revelers enjoyed one more day of parades before Fat Tuesday. - photo by Associated Press
    NEW ORLEANS — Wearing beaded sunglasses with feathers, 83-year-old Lorraine McCaslin waved a green handkerchief as she danced in New Orleans’ Woldenberg Park, ushering in what she says is her favorite time of year — Mardi Gras.
    ‘‘This is the best medicine,’’ said McCaslin, who lives in Metairie, a New Orleans suburb. ‘‘I can have aches all over and when Mardi Gras comes around, I feel no pain.’’
    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.
    On Monday, McCaslin was among hundreds of revelers at Woldenberg Park enjoying Lundi Gras events that included musical acts on three stages along the bank of the Mississippi River near the French Quarter.
    Only sporadic violence marred the celebration. Last 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, five people were hit by gunfire downtown; and early Monday, at least one man was injured in a shooting on Bourbon Street.
    Police say 1,100 officers, state troopers and National Guardsmen have been positioned along parade routes since the season began. Some officers are in plain clothes.
    ‘‘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. Most of the violence is related to drugs or personal grudges, he said.
    More wary were Sissy and Mark Johnson. The couple live in Abita Springs, about an hour’s drive north of New Orleans. They moved there from suburban Metairie after Hurricane Katrina hit the area in August 2005.
    ‘‘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.’’
    Still, many revelers said they were undaunted by the recent incidents of gunfire.
    ‘‘We’re not afraid,’’ Sherry Jordan, from the north Louisiana town of Downsville, said Monday as she took in the French Quarter sights with her husband of 40 years, Bill.
    The celebration appears to have bounced back strongly since Katrina flooded more than 80 percent of the city. Mardi Gras crowd estimates hovered around 1 million in the years before Katrina, and the crowd reached about 800,000 last year.
    Police declined to project how big the crowd will be on Tuesday, but the hotel association said occupancy in the area’s 32,000 hotel rooms should exceed 90 percent for the long weekend that ends on Ash Wednesday.

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