NEW ORLEANS - Revelers dressed in costumes and reaching for beads thrown from floats will take to the streets when Carnival season reaches its peak, their celebration tinged with grief after two paradegoers were hit and killed by floats in the run-up to Fat Tuesday.
Carnival season began Jan. 6 and ends Fat Tuesday after weeks of Mardi Gras parades, balls and merriment. This season's festivities have been marred by the deaths of the two people killed at separate parades in recent days.
Last Wednesday as thousands of people gathered to watch the all-female Krewe of Nyx parade, a woman was killed after being struck by a float. Witnesses told news outlets that Geraldine Carmouche, 58, of New Orleans tried to cross between two parts of a tandem float and tripped over a hitch connecting the sections. Tandem floats are multiple floats pulled by one tractor.
Then on Saturday night during the Endymion parade - one of the biggest and glitziest parades every year - a man out watching on Canal Street was hit and killed by a float, also a tandem. He was identified as Joseph Sampson, 58, of New Orleans.
Following the deaths, the city announced a ban on tandem floats for the rest of the season. Superintendent Shaun Ferguson said Monday said he's not blaming the parade groups or tandem floats for the deaths. But, he stood by his decision to bar the multipart floats for the last few days of the parade season. He said representatives from parade krewes, police and city officials will meet this week or next to discuss safety issues surrounding the parades.
Mardi Gras season is usually a time of frivolity and fun as thousands of people swarm into the streets of New Orleans and other cities and towns in southern Louisiana and the Gulf Coast. Theirs is an annual tradition of watching parades, partying and hanging out with family and friends.
The festivities get an early start on Fat Tuesday.
Families gather to watch the Zulu Social Aid & Pleasure Club parade on the main route down St. Charles Avenue, followed by the Rex Parade and then two more parades. In the French Quarter, people from all walks of life dress up in elaborate costumes and take to the streets to see and be seen.
Once the parades are over the action shifts to the French Quarter's more raucous Bourbon Street.
Every year at midnight police ride on horseback to ceremonially "clear" the street although partying continues long past that. Then comes Ash Wednesday, which marks the beginning of Lent and a time for many Christians to fast and reflect ahead of Easter.