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NEW ORLEANS Soggy Mardi Gras comes to end

Wednesday, February 25, 2004

The Carnival season was marred by two deaths and a shipping accident.
NEW ORLEANS (AP) -- As Mardi Gras gave way to Ash Wednesday, a traditional march of mounted police did what cool, soggy conditions could not: clear a thick crowd of costumed, libidinous revelers off Bourbon Street.
It was the end of a bizarre Carnival season marred by a pair of deaths, parade-disrupting downpours and a Mississippi River accident that stranded thousands of cruise ship passengers in New Orleans.
The weather appeared to thin crowds to below-average levels at times, which left people like photographer Louis Sahuc, owner of a French Quarter gallery, with mixed feelings.
"It's mellow, which is great," he said. "But as a merchant it just seems like crowds were a little more sparse than the past few years."
Official crowd estimates for the final 12 days of Carnival were not available early today. Arrests were up by 4 percent to just over 1,700, said police Superintendent Eddie Compass. Most were for minor offenses.
The cleanup
By early today, the only parading going on consisted of heavy-duty cleaning vehicles, looking to restore a fresh look to this heavily Roman Catholic city as Carnival surrendered to the austerity and penitence of Lent, which lasts from Ash Wednesday to Easter.
Many parades had to be postponed, and while it appeared the number of revelers would be low by Mardi Gras standards, the crowds were still quite thick at times and there was plenty to see.
Several people wore costumes playing off President Bush's talk of sending astronauts to Mars, including one partier who wore a silver salad bowl fitted with sticks and wiffle balls to resemble a cartoon-style Martian helmet.
Bourbon Street was jammed when parades ended in the early evening Tuesday, with the crowd on the street boisterously interacting with those throwing beaded necklaces from balconies.
While the vast majority of those who participated in Mardi Gras festivities said they loved it, this year's Carnival will likely be remembered in part for two deaths along parade routes and other disruptions.
A woman attending a gala in the Louisiana Superdome fell from a 20-foot-high platform Saturday night and died the next day. Another woman watching a parade Feb. 18 was hit by a stray bullet fired when an argument among a group of youths erupted into gunfire. Four people were arrested.
A shipping accident on Saturday blocked the Mississippi River, forcing two New Orleans-bound cruise ships to dock in Gulfport, Miss., and Mobile, Ala. More than 2,000 passengers were stranded in New Orleans on the city's busiest day when their cruise ship, scheduled to sail on Saturday, was stuck here through today.