Officials estimate large turnout for Mardi Gras festivities

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New Orleans, which continues to recover slowly from the devastation of Hurricane Katrina, celebrated its second Mardi Gras since the storm hit with a larger turnout than last year and at least 95% of its hotel rooms filled, officials said.

New Orleans police estimated that about 800,000 people attended parades and festivities over the main Mardi Gras weekend, which culminated on Fat Tuesday Feb. 20.

While tens of thousands of residents continued to be displaced, state tourism officials estimated that the Mardi Gras festivities have pumped millions of dollars into the city and state economy. Visitors and returning residents reclaimed some of the past glory of the event and shunted aside the ongoing problems of recovery -- business failures, insurance woes and recovery funding -- that continue to trouble southeast Louisiana.

Fred Sawyers, president of the Greater New Orleans Hotel and Lodging Association, told reporters that more than 28,000 of the 30,000 hotel rooms available were filled during Mardi Gras weekend.

Events for the annual celebration began in January. While no firm statistics were available, tourism officials said the pre-Lenten weekend parades and events drew an estimated 100,000 more people than last years celebration.

To contact reporter Dan Luzadder, send e-mail to [email protected].

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