New Orleans revelers rolling in beads during annual Mardi Gras celebration

Tuesday, February 12th 2002, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

NEW ORLEANS (AP) _ Mardi Gras revelers were rolling in beads and booze on Bourbon Street as they tried to celebrate the city's annual pre-Lenten blowout free of any worries about terrorism.

``It's been a rough year on all of us, sad times,'' said Doreen Anderson, 31, of Los Angeles. ``That's why I'm here. All I was thinking about was how good a party would be right now.''

Bourbon Street balconies were jammed hours before the traditional parades got under way Monday night, with people tossing long strings of beads to partygoers below.

Harry Seals, a 28-year-old salesman from St. Louis, and a group of buddies were offering the plastic trinkets to women willing to pay by showing some skin.

``It's the currency of the hour,'' said Seals, holding up a string of beads. ``People want them. Some people will do almost anything for them.''

``What a place,'' said Tom Carter, 28, of St. Louis. ``I'll remember this the rest of my life.''

New Orleans was wrapping up its annual Carnival, the city's final fling before Lent, which begins Ash Wednesday. The festivities were interrupted this year by the Super Bowl. The NFL game was pushed back a week by the terrorist attacks, forcing New Orleans to split the two weekends of parades that lead up to Fat Tuesday.

In the French Quarter, the pillars holding up balconies were greased to prevent overly enthusiastic revelers from climbing them.

Although tossing beads and trinkets from the balconies is illegal, police ignore the practice during Carnival. Exposing breasts is also illegal, but arrests are rare.

Police were evident throughout the French Quarter and along the parade routes, with officers on 12-hour shifts and 50 National Guard troops and 100 state troopers helping out.

``The first weekend of parades had no trouble, and of course, the Super Bowl went off without a hitch,'' police spokesman Lt. Sidney Bournes said. ``We expect the same thing for the rest of Carnival.''

Along the parade route on historic St. Charles Avenue, red, white and blue interspersed the traditional Carnival colors of purple, green and gold. American flags decorated many of the mansions that lined the street.

In Philadelphia, police officials, who were criticized for losing control of last year's Mardi Gras celebration, said they would not tolerate public drinking, public nudity and vandalism this time around.

City officials wanted to prevent a repeat of last year's fiasco, in which drunken revelers threw bottles, smashed storefronts and looted thousands of dollars worth of merchandise.

More than 80 people were arrested during the riot on South Street, a popular stretch of bars and shops at the edge of downtown.

Police deployed hundreds of officers to control the crowds, but they were overwhelmed by marauding groups of young men.

This year, the city put more uniformed and undercover officers on the street. They said they would arrest underage drinkers and other violators on the spot, and also planned to keep traffic moving along South Street to prevent revelers from spilling onto the roadway.

``The problem last year was we didn't expect that kind of violence. This year, I'm loaded for bear,'' said police Chief Inspector Frank Pryor.