Page 2 of 2   <      

Mostly Black Mardi Gras Event Shows A City in Pain

Her hair adorned with ribbons, 8-year-old Kerriyelle Knight gestures for beads from the Zulu krew at the Under the Bridge celebration. The route passes her old home at the Lafitte complex, now closed.
Her hair adorned with ribbons, 8-year-old Kerriyelle Knight gestures for beads from the Zulu krew at the Under the Bridge celebration. The route passes her old home at the Lafitte complex, now closed. (By Peter Whoriskey -- The Washington Post)

Blair Conerly, 33, a barber and Mardi Gras Indian, had to commute from Dallas, where he now lives.

Pete, the tuba player, comes in from neighboring Kenner because his home in the Ninth Ward was destroyed. Just a few months ago, in the midst of one of the city's crimes waves, a member of his band was shot and killed while driving with his wife and child.

Asked whether the hard-hit Ninth Ward would ever come back, Pete exhaled forcefully enough to billow his cheeks.

"If it ever does, it will be a really, really long time," he said. "The answer is, I really don't know."

The city is still half-empty, by most estimates, and the toll has been heaviest on black residents. The proportion of African Americans residing in the city is estimated to have slipped from nearly 70 percent before Katrina to about 55 percent now.

The Lower Ninth Ward remains almost desolate, with only a handful of trailers to signal any intention of residents returning. On some blocks nearest the canal-wall breaches, nearly all of the homes already have been torn down.

In New Orleans East, once a vast area of middle-class African Americans, there are just a few more trailers and a lingering wonder about whether the community will come back. On one typical block, only about four of 24 homes are occupied.

"We're pioneers out here," said Leroy Thomas III, a cable installer fixing up his New Orleans East home. "We don't really know what's going to happen here. But right now, I don't have time for Mardi Gras."

Even among those who have returned, the struggles in post-Katrina New Orleans have cut any appetite for celebration.

Ernest Penns, 74, a church deacon living in a Federal Emergency Management Agency trailer in a nearly deserted street in the Lower Ninth Ward, said he couldn't think about Mardi Gras now -- at least until he could get back into his home or at least get the heater fixed in the trailer.

"There's no peace of mind for us yet," he said.


<       2

© 2007 The Washington Post Company