Video: Big Easy banking on Mardi Gras

By Peter Alexander Correspondent
NBC News
updated 2/17/2006 8:04:11 PM ET 2006-02-18T01:04:11

New Orleans is as ready as it's going to be to put on a party. It’s finishing floats and welcoming guests.

“New Orleans is on the way back,” says Charles Bendzans, a painter who helps create parade floats for Mardi Gras. “Come down. Have some fun!”

But even though hotels and restaurants are counting on a surge of visitors this Mardi Gras, they're expecting to make less than half the $1 billion New Orleans took in last year.

“So this really, for us, is the new birth of New Orleans, our culture and our economics all at the same time,”says Stephen Perry, president of the New Orleans Convention and Visitors Bureau.

This city was underwater just six months ago, and tourists don't know if Mardi Gras is worth a trip. Those who do make it down here will find they're visiting two cities at once. The Convention Center — last September the symbol of desperation — is back in business Friday with a jewelry trade show. But across from the center, there's a temporary medical unit, because there are only two emergency rooms open in the entire city. Doctors are bracing for their patient load to triple in the next two weeks.

“Every day is close to a near disaster for us,” says Dr. Charles Aiken, the director of the LSU Health Sciences Center's Homeland Defense Program. “So once again we're going to have to meet that added challenge.”

And there’s good news at Harrah's. The city's only land-based casino reopened Friday. That means 1,200 new jobs and enthusiastic guests.

“It's time to spend some money,” says John Robinson, a visitor from St. Louis, “to be a part of it — the rebirth of New Orleans.”

Meanwhile, the city remains untouched in so many ways. Dozens of bodies are still unrecovered. Officials haven't searched for them since December, when money for overtime ran out.

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