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Wet Blankets the Party Spirit of Bourbon Street

Weather: Rains ahead of Tropical Storm Isidore pound New Orleans, dampening tourism.

September 26, 2002|LIANNE HART | TIMES STAFF WRITER

NEW ORLEANS — The historic French Quarter was a sodden sight Wednesday as rains from Tropical Storm Isidore pounded the city, sending party-goers into hiding and tourist-dependent shopkeepers into a funk.

"This is a fun city, a party town, but with this rain everyone just wants to stay in bed and sleep," said a doleful Bob Sid as he folded stacks of unsold T-shirts at his empty Bourbon Street souvenir shop.

On the wall, hot-pink feather boas wilted in the humidity. Mardi Gras beads of every description hung from hooks and still the only question from the occasional shopper was: "Where are your umbrellas?"

It was a disheartening, if practical, question. With Isidore bearing down on the Louisiana Gulf Coast, New Orleans--most of which sits a few feet below sea level--was flooding in some areas. Pumps worked overtime to keep down the water level in this basin-like city.

Emergency officials Wednesday ordered 8,000 people in low-lying coastal towns to evacuate. Another 8,000 people in nearby coastal Jefferson Parish were told to leave earlier this week, said Walter Maestri, director of emergency management for the parish. In New Orleans, officials Wednesday set a 10 p.m. to 7 a.m. curfew to keep streets clear for emergency vehicles.

Let the good times roll, they usually say here. But up and down the quaint--and now flooded--streets of the French Quarter, the scene was anything but festive: Torrents of rain sloshed and puddled everywhere, soaking the few die-hard tourists determined to salvage their vacations.

Ed Hoffman and Cindy Cooper flew to New Orleans from Portland, Ore., this week to celebrate their 20th wedding anniversary. "We're used to rain," said Cooper with a good-natured shrug. Her hair hung in damp ringlets around her face and a flimsy plastic poncho flapped against her bare legs. "At least it's warm here."

The couple had shopped for their children, sampled chicory-flavored coffee, and taken a tour of haunted houses, but many of their vacation evenings were spent at the hotel restaurant.

Although they planned to return to Portland today, Isidore may change their plans. "We don't know if we'll be able to get out of the city," Hoffman said.

Despite the downpour, Cheryl and Dennis Weber, who flew to New Orleans from Virginia Beach, Va., were having fun at the Jazz Funeral store trying on wigs.

"The only thing about the storm is that all the serious restaurants seem to be closed," Dennis Weber said as he tried on a baseball cap outfitted with a blond pageboy wig. "But on the other hand, every place that serves serious alcohol is open. I guess if the storm gets worse, you just drink more."

That's what they're evidently hoping at Patout's, which is advertising a 16-ounce Hurricane--a rum and fruit punch drink--for $4.75, a bargain here.

"It's a 'Brave the Storm' special," manager Carlos Carrasco said. "I thought opening today would be an exercise in futility but I guess we're getting all of the tourists who are stranded here."

Usually Patout's is blasted by karaoke music blaring from two neighboring clubs. On Wednesday, the loudest sounds came from the pounding rain and the occasional curse as a gust of wind turned an umbrella inside out.

Isidore is expected to sweep ashore early today, bringing high winds and the potential for as much as 20 inches of rain.

Residents fled flooded coastal communities Wednesday night in Louisiana and Mississippi as the storm approached. In Alabama, pounding surf eroded beaches and storm preparations were underway as far north as Birmingham, 200 miles from the Gulf of Mexico.

The storm spawned a tornado east of New Orleans near the Florida Panhandle town of Santa Rosa Beach late Wednesday but there were no reports of injuries.

As a storm precaution, many schools in the region were to be closed today.

City Hall in New Orleans also will be closed, but Boudreaux's Backyard Country Store in the French Quarter will be open--much to the disgust of store clerk Tee Bato.

Already the store's roof is leaking water onto the voodoo dolls and dried alligator heads. What will the morning bring? she asks. "Who's going to be in the mood to shop after a storm? Baby, I tell you this, the answer is no one."

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