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T-shirts tell it all in the wake of Hurricane Katrina

NEW ORLEANS—A wave of T-shirts inspired by Hurricane Katrina has hit this city with a splash.

Displayed in the doorways of shops in the French Quarter, the shirts celebrate surviving the storm and the rebuilding effort. Some are designed to lighten the mood during tough times.

"I survived Hurricane Katrina in New Orleans and all I got was this lousy T-shirt," one of them reads.

Another adds a bit of black humor: "I stayed in New Orleans for Katrina and all I got was this lousy T-shirt, a new Cadillac and a plasma TV."

Maria Rodriguez eyed the shirt on a rack at Dixieland Factory Outlet, a shop on Bourbon Street. "I think it's funny," said Rodriguez, who's stationed with the Coast Guard in New Orleans. "I'm thinking of buying it."

Its message is inspired by the looting that occurred immediately after the hurricane hit and by public allegations that New Orleans police officers took dozens of Cadillacs from an area dealership after the storm.

Some shirts blare other bold messages, such as "Forget Iraq—Rebuild at Home in New Orleans." Another displays the words "Girls Gone Wild" above a pair of bright orange swirls, each shaped like the eye of a hurricane. Labeled "Katrina" and "Rita," each swirl is placed on the shirts you-know-where.

Shirts touting messages with attitude are selling to some locals, to tourists who are trickling back and to construction and rescue workers who frequent the Quarter these days, shop owners said.

"On Bourbon Street, you can't sell anything serious," said Sadiq Kahn, Dixieland Factory Outlet's owner and manager. "People get a laugh. They need one. If you talk to people in New Orleans, everybody is affected by the hurricane."

Even a few government workers have purchased shirts inscribed with the message "Where is FEMA? Federal Employees Missing Again," shop owners said. Others, including American Red Cross workers, tend to choose shirts with a tamer message, such as "Rescue, Relief and Disaster Support." One with a cleanup-crew theme features a colorful drawing of the cartoon character SpongeBob SquarePants.

Virginia Cantor, who runs J&J Gift Shop on Decatur Street with her husband, has noticed that most New Orleans residents like the shirts with the simple "I Survived Katrina" message. It's the hard partiers in the Quarter who like those that add, "and all I got was this lousy T-shirt," Jesus Cantor said.

Katrina-related shirts are sold at stores and gas stations in other parts of the city, too, vendors said. Others are offered on Web sites, and some sellers are promising that part of the purchase price will go to hurricane disaster relief.

The shirts, which sell for $6.99 to $12.99, landed in French Quarter shops a day or two after the Quarter's mid-October reopening, shop owners said. That's when salespeople for the screen printers who created the shirts showed up to market their wares. Caps with Katrina-related themes and posters also are available in some stores.

"Somebody is working on beads with a Katrina survivor theme, too," said Kahn of Dixieland Factory Outlet. "I haven't seen them yet, though."

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

PHOTOS (from KRT Photo Service, 202-383-6099): WEA-STORMS-TSHIRTS

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