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Mall damaged by freighter reopens in time for Super Bowl

January 23, 1997

NEW ORLEANS (AP) _ The riverside shopping mall smashed by an out-of-control cargo ship less than two weeks before Christmas reopened Thursday in time to cash in on Super Bowl tourism.

``Santa Claus is out of work, but we are back,″ said Al Carson, grand marshal of the jazz band that regularly marches through the Riverwalk mall.

Four days before the big game, tourists began trickling in for the first time since Dec. 14, when a grain freighter lost power and slammed into the crowded complex along the Mississippi River. The crash injured more than 100 people and collapsed four stories of shops, restaurants and several rooms of the Hilton Hotel.

Some visitors were there out of curiosity.

``I wanted to see it,″ said Jim Tracy of Kansas City, Mo., in town to watch the Green Bay Packers and New England Patriots play for the NFL championship at the Louisiana Superdome in New Orleans.

Seeing what happened took some effort, though. A wall 30 feet high and 250 feet long hides the worst of the damage from shoppers. Some went out onto the wharf to get a better look. One woman, oblivious to the ``wet paint″ signs, got white paint all over her hands as she struggled to peer over the wall.

Meanwhile, officials are doing everything to reassure people that the mall is safe. The Coast Guard set up an early-warning system to alert the mall of a possible runaway ship. The mall also is installing cameras facing the river. And the damaged sections have been inspected and shored up, said Brian Lade, vice president and general manager of the mall.

``The Riverwalk is as safe as it ever was _ more so,″ Fire Department Superintendent Warren McDaniels said.

The mall, which has 120 stores, had 100 of them ready to open Thursday. Seven more expected to open within the next few days. Some of the damaged stores have reopened in smaller spaces in the mall.

Aside from the millions of dollars in property damage, the crash brought a sudden end to the mall’s Christmas shopping season, which makes up as much as 20 percent of the stores’ annual sales.

Crews have been working two 10-hour shifts every day to fix up the Riverwalk in time for the Super Bowl and for Mardi Gras season, in early February.

``It has been a long process, like an expensive unpaid vacation,″ said Betty Fischer, who owns a T-shirt shop just yards away from where the freighter struck.

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