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New Orleans is beginning to resemble a ghost town

NEW ORLEANS—On trendy Magazine Street, authorities allowed the hungry to rummage through a fully stocked organic supermarket Sunday—yet few bothered.

The French Quarter was so quiet that the few people milling about were vastly outnumbered by the pigeons suddenly flocking to feast on street debris.

The Warehouse District could have been a French town at the end of World War II—buildings buckled in avalanches of bricks, streets empty, leaves swirling in the gutter, an occasional military vehicle roaring through.

The reality of post-Katrina New Orleans emerged Sunday with stark clarity: There are few people left. Most of those awaiting evacuation have gone.

"It feels really weird. I can't find the words to describe it," said Helene Barnett, 39, who along with her husband and young daughter walked their dog along Magazine Street.

There are still holdouts like the Barnetts who refuse to leave. But for all intents, New Orleans is a ghost town.

The area just outside the Superdome, once a sea of sweaty human bodies, was instead a bizarre landscape of smashed water bottles and every conceivable kind of trash.

The Convention Center, which earned a brutal reputation as the most violent site among the New Orleans shelters, was quiet.

On Magazine Street, a trendy strip of boutiques and restaurants one resident called "Yuppieville," the air felt hollow, save for the helicopter droning past.

One looter, if you could call her that, politely gathered designer water, vitamins and cleaning supplies from the Whole Foods supermarket.

"I've never been in a situation where I shopped just for survival. I could be on `Survivor' after this," said the woman, who identified herself only as Lee.

Nearby, boards covered the windows of businesses with names like St. Joe's Bar and Original Italian Pie & Pasta ("Happy Hour: 2 to 6 p.m., domestic beer $1.50"). Two toy stores sported broken windows, but their merchandise appeared mostly undisturbed. A New York Times rack sat shoved against a street sign.

"This is a main street. The tourists come up and look at me and take pictures of my house," said Rosita Duplantier, 62, who lives in a peeling, blue shotgun duplex. "And I sit here and look right back at `em."

But Duplantier and her aunt, Olga Cousin, 78, had no tourists to chat with on Sunday.

They stayed in the duplex—their home for more than two decades—despite the lack of power and ice. Sitting on her porch—she walks with difficulty because of degenerative bone disease and five hip surgeries—Duplantier fanned herself with a piece of cardboard.

"It hurts," she said of her empty street.

At the River Walk, the only souls were a Japanese camera crew filming a Navy vessel pressed against a smoky horizon.

The few remaining residents of the Big Easy tried to rekindle a sense of normalcy. They swept the streets of the French Quarter and even organized a mini Gay Pride march to replace the huge Southern Decadence parade normally held this time of year.

Robert Bell, who has stayed with about 15 other people in apartments above a nightclub on Bourbon Street, can't leave yet because floodwaters have trapped the downtown garage where he parked his car.

"I'm going to leave because I think they're going to make everybody leave," Bell said. "But I'm coming back."

Down at the Warehouse District, where just days earlier refugees looking to evacuate aboard buses began their exodus from the Convention Center to the Superdome only to be turned away, the quiet was disconcerting.

Charles McConnell, 64, and Donald Stevens, 48, sat sweating in front of the Ledale Hotel, where most of the residents are blue-collar workers.

McConnell, an assistant manager of the hotel who is watching it for its owner, appeared resigned to the unnatural quiet in the streets.

"It makes me sad," he said, "but there ain't nuthin' I can do about it."


(c) 2005, Knight Ridder/Tribune Information Services.

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