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New Orleans Celebrates Mardi Gras

March 7, 2000

NEW ORLEANS (AP) _ Revelers shed inhibitions _ and some their clothes _ as hundreds of thousands of people jammed the streets for Mardi Gras, the final fling before the austerity of Lent.

While families with children gathered along mansion-lined St. Charles Avenue for a day of parades, in the French Quarter a police ban on nudity went mostly unenforced.

``I haven’t had a shirt on in five days,″ said Ashley Kennedy, a New Orleans bartender.

While an artist painted designs on Kennedy’s breast, four police officers watched from across the street.

``It’s Mardi Gras and a little flash of flesh adds to everybody’s fun,″ Kennedy said.

Judi Jones strolled down Bourbon Street with her breasts concealed only by a layer of paint and carrying a sign that read ``The right to bare breasts.″

``They cost me a fortune so why shouldn’t I show them off,″ said Jones, 24, of Dallas.

No problems were reported, police Chief Richard Pennington said. The annual celebration is normally trouble free and most arrests are only for drunkenness, which police say usually means a drunk who bothers people around him, and public urination.

Police do not release arrest figures until after Mardi Gras, which ends at midnight Tuesday _ the last day of feasting and celebration before Ash Wednesday and the sacrifices of Catholics during Lent. Southern Louisiana is heavily Catholic.

This year’s later-than-usual Mardi Gras, coinciding with spring break for many colleges and 80-degree weather, was expected to produce a record crowd in excess of the million or so that usually jam New Orleans and its suburbs.

``This is my sixth Mardi Gras and it’s the largest crowd I’ve seen,″ said Pennington. ``I’m sure we’ll set a record. I’d estimate we have well over a million, maybe a million and a half people on the streets.″

The narrow streets of the French Quarter were jammed by midmorning as people strolled through ankle-deep trash or clustered under balconies to grab beads dropped from above. Booze flowed, with revelers sipping from plastic cups as they walked, and strangers danced to music blaring from bars or posed with each other for pictures.

``I’ve seen things I never saw before, ate things I never ate before, and drank things that I’m sure will be lethal,″ said Larry Ward, 34, of Detroit. ``But I’ll sure die happy.″

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