Carnival Crowds Out In Force In New Orleans

Sunday, February 18th 2007, 3:45 pm
By: News On 6

NEW ORLEANS (AP) _ Chilly temperatures did not deter the revelers who turned out Sunday to watch the parades roll through the city on the last weekend before Mardi Gras.

Bryan Young of Hammond hunched over a grill at a spot along Napoleon Avenue, a main parade route, cooking hamburgers and sausages in the 40-degree weather. The key to staying warm was to dress in layers, he said.

``It's part of what makes the city the city,'' Young said.

Several parades rolled Sunday, culminating with the Krewe of Bacchus, one of the most-anticipated events of Carnival. This year, the parade was led by actor James Gandolfini of ``The Sopranos.''

He was an immediate hit, posing with people for pictures and signing autographs before the parade began at dusk.

Clad in a black derby, a white tunic over white tights and black knee-high boots, Gandolfini threw doubloons to giddy spectators by the fistful. He was on the upper level of double-decked float where he sat on a half-crown throne.

It was because of Gandolfini that truck driver Andre Fos staked out a spot early.

``Anything to do with the Mafia is my thing,'' said Fos, as he drained a beer before noon on nearby Magazine Street.

Earlier, the Krewe of Thoth put on a crowd-pleasing processional, including double-decker floats with costumed masked riders tossing beads, stuffed animals and other trinkets to revelers.

Leslie Petty of Slidell wore feathers and a necklace adorned with large plastic apples. She was with friends and family, feasting on a spread including barbecue and chicken. She said she had abandoned her diet until Wednesday.

``We're going to party until Lent,'' Petty said.

Mardi Gras is considered a key to reviving New Orleans' tourism business following the damage caused by Hurricane Katrina. The signs of the devastating storm are still obvious in swaths of the city but are largely unnoticeable to those who stay in the French Quarter and central business district.

Before the storm, about a million visitors came here over the four days capped by Fat Tuesday. Officials expect about 700,000 this year _ but as of Sunday, did not have any estimates.

Police spokesman Sgt. Joe Narcisse said there have been some instances of people drunk in public or disturbing the peace, but Carnival so far has been relatively uneventful.

Most were just trying to stay warm. Ron Wauters of the Krewe of Mid-City, one of Sunday's parade groups, said things warm up quickly for the costumed members on the floats once the action starts.

``When you're up there throwing the beads, you work up a good sweat,'' Wauters said.