Mardi Gras 2015 draws enthusiastic crowds undaunted by chilly weather

Mardi Gras 2015 dawned cold, windy and one shade of grey Tuesday (Feb. 17), but dreary proved no match for the revelry that was to come. Undaunted by the less-than-ideal weather, parade goers donned costumes and bundled up in winter coats and hit the streets of New Orleans and surrounding communities to celebrate a chilly Fat Tuesday.

Despite temperatures that hovered in the 30s and 40s, most seemed happy that this year's version of Mardi Gras was a vast improvement over last year's "Soggy Gras," when the mercury stayed in the 30s and rain fell throughout the day. Zulu, Rex, ArgusCovington Lions and Grela, as well as countless truck floats, rolled under dry conditions that improved as the day went on. By afternoon, blue skies came over the area.

Toasting Rex in front of Gallier Hall, Mayor Mitch Landrieu noted that despite the rain that moved into the New Orleans area late Monday, he had received information from a reliable source that the precipitation would end in time for Tuesday's festivities.

"The Witch Doctor from Zulu promised it would not rain, and he turned out to be right," Landrieu said in his official greeting to Christian Brown, this year's King of Carnival.

Rex, in return, told the mayor that the Carnival organization was much more than a just a parade and a ball, having contributed millions to the city's education system. And, Brown noted that Rex might be able to help with infrastructure needs as well.

"Mr. Mayor, last night you offered me the keys to the city if I promised to fill the potholes of the streets," he said. "And right now we are trying to do our best with beads, doubloons, cups and everything."

Early Tuesday, the parade goers who began to gather along routes came prepared with blankets, various types of headwear and other cold weather gear. One group gathered around a portable fire pit to keep warm.

Costumes were altered in some cases to accommodate extra layers of clothing. Tutus designed to expose bare legs instead were worn over jeans and other costumes were pulled tightly over sweatshirts and jackets.

Matching jackets covered gowns worn by young women on one of the first floats in the Zulu parade.

As Zulu passed, Ashley English said she was too cold to show off her costume.

"I have a corset on. You just can't see it," she said, pulling at the neck of her leather jacket.

Along Jackson Avenue, contractor Mike Cochran and several other men were stationed in the parking lot of a building under renovation, giving away hot bowls of gumbo. While the classic local dish may have been warming, Cochran said it was being served for other reasons as well.

"Our main purpose - other than feeding the multitudes - is making sure nobody climbs the scaffold," he said.

Early on Fat Tuesday, as has been a Mardi Gras tradition for 55 years, Pete Fountain's Half-Fast Marching Club began its trek ahead of the Zulu and Rex parades, starting at Commander's Palace in the Garden District. The 84-year-old legendary clarinetist, who started the Half-Fast Walking Club in 1960, rode in the front of a streetcar along with the club's band, distributing beads and waving to crowds along the route.

As the club began its ride, Fountain yelled "Happy Mardi Gras!"

By the time the Zulu and Rex and the truck krewes made their way through the streets, crowds had thickened and parade goers jockeyed for position to catch throws.

In Metairie, the Krewe of Argus' 20 floats rolled along the traditional Veterans Boulevard route with crowds that rivaled those of other Fat Tuesdays. The Argus parade was followed by the Elks Krewe of Jeffersonians and the Krewe of Jefferson truck parades. Young children were everywhere along the route, bundled to the point that some had trouble raising their arms because of their multi-layered attire.

Two riders were taken to the hospital after falling from truck floats in the Elks Jeffersonians parade, authorities said. A 24-year-old man fell from his float in the 3400 block of Veterans Boulevard at about 12:32 p.m. He was taken to East Jefferson General Hospital and later reported in stable condition.

A short time later, a 23-year-old woman fell from a truck float as it neared the intersection of Veterans Boulevard and Edenborn Avenue, officials said. She suffered what appeared to be minor injuries and was taken to East Jefferson General Hospital for observation.

The Mardi Gras scene in Covington for the Mystic Krewe of Covington and Covington's Lions Club parades was family-friendly as usual. Those opting not to cross Lake Pontchartrain instead lined East Boston and Columbia streets for a milder version of Mardi Gras where many hoisted warm coffee mugs instead of cold alcoholic beverages.

But there was plenty of adult beverages enjoyed throughout the day and into the night as the party moved into the French Quarter Tuesday night. At midnight, New Orleans police officers on horseback planned to make their annual ride through the quarter, marking the official end of Mardi Gras 2015.

But in his official toast, Rex suggested that when life resumes to "normal" on Wednesday in New Orleans, the city would be moving toward a brighter future.

"We are having our education system improved, our streets and infrastructure improving, there is a sense of returned entrepreneurship with young people moving back to New Orleans and new people moving in. And all I can say is New Orleans one day will be undoubtedly the greatest city in the world!

"So, Hail New Orleans! Hail New Orleans!"

Based on reporting form reporters Heather Nolan, Manuel Torres, Kara Martinez Bachman, Robert McClendon and the Associated Press.