New Orleans goes out for parades

Chilly temperatures did not deter the revelers who turned out to watch the parades roll through the city on the last weekend before Mardi Gras.

Bryan Young hunched over a grill Sunday at a spot along Napoleon Avenue, a main parade route, cooking hamburgers and sausages in the 40-degree (4 degrees Celsius) 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.

The parade was one of several to roll through New Orleans on Sunday, and more were planned in the lead up to Fat Tuesday. Among those set for Monday: the Krewe of Orpheus, whose founders include singer and hometown boy Harry Connick Jr.

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, the AP reports.

One concern going into Carnival had been a rash of violent crime in recent months. After the end of the Bacchus parade about 10 p.m. Sunday, a 15-year-old boy from suburban New Orleans was shot in the chest, said Sgt. Joe Narcisse, a police spokesman. He was taken to a hospital. Narcisse said police believe the youth was the victim of a targeted attack. No arrests were immediately reported.

Before that, police said the day had been relatively uneventful, other than for some cases of people being drunk in public or disturbing the peace.

Before Hurricane Katrina hit in 2005, about a million visitors came here over the four days capped by Fat Tuesday. Officials expect about 700,000 this year _ about the same amount of people who came in 2006.

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