Revelers Celebrate Despite Katrina's Mess

Ida Punzo loves Mardi Gras. "We're a partying town. And nothing is going to scare us off. Not even a hurricane," she said.

Punzo got much too close to the hurricane that pummeled much of Biloxi's Fat Tuesday parade route. She rode out Katrina on the top floor of a gutted Highway 90 relic.

"Actually, we really thought we were going to die," she remembered about her August 29, 2005 experience.  "We knew we were going to die. Mardi Gras wasn't a factor. Just making sure we get to heaven was the factor."

Yet there she was, six months later, about to celebrate Mardi Gras with her landlord Billy Gollott.

"Things have to go on," Gollott said. "That's the most important thing I think, for people to move forward."

Gollott has been inviting friends to his perfect parade perch along the Biloxi waterfront for decades. Despite a storm that demolished homes and crippled much of the Biloxi community, he figured Mardi Gras was the perfect time to put up a few tents and throw another party.

"They've been coming here since 1972. So what stop now?" he wondered. "We normally start cooking a couple of days ahead. Today, we're having hotdogs. Sort of the sign of the times."

The sign of the times post-Katrina included Gollott's aunt taking her first motorcycle ride. Or Ms. Punzo celebrating Mardi Gras in front of the home where she withstood Hurricane Katrina's fury.

"It's part of moving on with life," she said. "It's part of taking back our heritage and our identity. And we're not going to let Katrina take away the biggest day of the year that we spend an entire year preparing for and celebrating. And here we are. We're going to celebrate it no matter what."