POSTED: Tuesday, February 21, 2012 - 6:00pm
UPDATED: Tuesday, March 13, 2012 - 10:37pm
NBC NATIONAL NEWS — Mardi Gras floats fill the streets of south Louisiana.
From New Orleans to Lafayette to Baton Rouge, tens of thousands on streets and sidewalks this Fat Tuesday.
Not one, but two parades happened today in new roads, with hundreds of people lining the streets there.
Mardi Gras was very low key here in Baton Rouge. The Beauregard Town parade, now in it's sixth year, went off without a hitch today. It kicked off at the old state capital.
Meanwhile in Mamou, record numbers occurred for the parade and festival there.
And of course, in New Orleans, lots of parades happened all across the French Quarter. The LSU Tiger Band, along with Jarrett Lee, T-Bob Hebert, and many big names from the Capitol City spent the day in the Big Easy.
The crowds and chaos were building along Bourbon Street.
"Mardi Gras is a time for Carnival,” exclaimed parade goer Corey Jacob. “Dress as you please. The freaks come out! Who dat? Who dat?”"
It's a fair question as you wander through the crowd in the French Quarter, a place on Fat Tuesday, where you can see just about anything: from super heroes and villains, to knights and full body tights, pigs, pirates, and police, ghost busters, babies with beads, bright yellow suits, and pink wigs and dresses.
"It's fun. It's good times,” stated Kevin Hattenhofer in New Orleans. “It's a party - it's a big party - the biggest party in the city."
The direct impact financially from this year's festival will be close to $200 million.
"New Orleans is going through a renaissance of sorts right now,” stated Al Gross with the Royal Sonesta Hotel. “There's a lot of investment into the community."
However, the party, and those profits, can't mask lingering problems just across the river. Most in the Ninth Ward say little has changed in the six years since Hurricane Katrina.
Instead of floats, banners and beads, Mardi Gras here is filled with damage, debris, and a sense of desperation.
"They fixing up the Westbank,” said Ninth Ward resident Carmisia Shirley. “Come down here to the Ninth Ward and fix this too. Knock some of these houses down that serve no purpose."
City leaders stress that Mardi Gras serves a vital purpose, and that the money is making its way to the hardest hit areas, still with work left to do..
Most everyone seems to agree. It's important that this party is without question the strongest Mardi Gras since Katrina and the numbers show it.
More than a million visitors and a direct economic impact of close to $200 million will be received by the city.