A few dozen die-hards braved the rains and winds of Hurricane Isaac to party in the famed French Quarter, but they found Bourbon Street — and most of New Orleans — nearly empty.
Most residents and tourists heeded calls to hunker down as the storm approached on the seventh anniversary of Hurricane Katrina, which devastated the “Big Easy” and killed nearly 1,800 people across the US Gulf Coast.
The anniversary left many uneasy and anxious as they remembered the chaos and 15-foot flood waters that swallowed New Orleans after Katrina — a Category Three hurricane packing sustained winds of 125 miles (200 kilometers) per hour — smashed the low-lying city’s poorly constructed levees.
“It brings back a whole lot of memories,” said Melody Barkum, 56, who spent days stranded on a roof without food or water after Katrina came ashore on August 29, 2005.
Isaac was nowhere near as strong — with winds of just 80 miles (130 kilometers) per hour — and two hours after it made landfall, there was little visible damage in the French Quarter.
Tourists Travis Methvin and Erica Johnson huddled under a balcony and grabbed some sloppy kisses as a few bored police officers looked on from the other side of Bourbon Street.
“What are you going to do, sit in your hotel all night?” Methvin told AFP as Johnson laughed and sipped her beer.
“It’s been pretty benign all day. Let’s be real about it.”
The bulk of the city’s restaurants, shops, bars — and even strip clubs — were closed, their windows covered in storm shutters and plywood, sandbags protecting doorways from rising water.
The few that were open didn’t have many customers.
Bartender Arla Parker looked bored as she watched a couple regulars play pool and five other locals sip their drinks. The juke box drowned out the sound of the rain.
She said she didn’t mind working through the storm, and that business is usually quiet in the summertime anyway.
“The Quarter is a really tight-knit community — you need a place to go if you don’t want to sit at home,” she explained.
Trent Sehlinger, 40, took his dog for a walk through the Quarter with a group of friends who’d made rain jackets out of black garbage bags.
“She gets a little nervous inside,” he said. “Thought I’d get her outside to blow off some energy.”
John and Misty Demahy also took advantage of a lull in the storm to get some air and walk down to the banks of the Mississippi River. The storm surge was pushing the water backwards up the river and they wanted to see the rare sight.
“I’m not on edge at all,” John said. “It’s a small hurricane — I think it’ll be good for the city to go through a good hurricane.”
“Maybe that will take some of the edge off,” Misty added.
A steady stream of adventurous souls headed to the banks of Lake Pontchartrain earlier Tuesday to feel the power of the wind and watch the waves crash in before dusk fell.
“It’s awesome!” Scott Schneider, 40, told AFP after climbing down a grass-covered levee to get a picture of the flooded lake front park.
The wind was strong enough to whip the glasses off Evan Stoudt’s face as he watched the waves crash up on shore.
“It’s pretty nuts. It’s the start of the storm and already it’s hard to stand still.”