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'Cultural jackpot' hardest hit

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The East Jerusalem Baptist Church survives in the Lower 9th Ward.

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Posted: 6:49 p.m. ET
From Andreas Preuss, CNN Gulf Coast Bureau

I've been through many New Orleans neighborhoods this past week. But the one that really stands out for its complete and utter Katrina destruction is the Lower 9th Ward. The bottom rung of the economic ladder, this part of the city is predominantly African-American and home to some of the meanest streets. Most tourists would never venture here, but it was a thriving, vital part of the New Orleans puzzle.

Driving out of the French Quarter along North Rampart, to St. Claude Avenue and a police checkpoint, then over the Industrial Canal brings you to this desolate place. There are not many standing structures: most houses, lives, property are now in giant rubble heaps.

The barren landscape is dotted with overturned cars and trucks. What really gets you is the color. Everything has a pale brown-gray tone. The only hint of color is the few trees that survived. And when it's windy, there's an irritating dust.

The neighborhood was flooded when the levee cracked open, pouring up to 10 feet of water into the area. To make matters worse, once the streets finally dried out, Hurricane Rita sent more water in to the Lower 9th. Anything that could be saved is now probably gone forever.

The most symbolic image is the tiny East Jerusalem Baptist Church. It's near the corner of North Derbigny Street and Jourdan Road, right alongside the ruptured canal. Amazingly, the structure still stands, though the back was smashed by a house.

The striking feature is the church's interior: velvet-cushioned pews crushed on top of each other, sodden floorboards and a broken drum set -- picture perfect upheaval. But the structure hangs on.

What about the future of this ruined place? Is it worth saving? There may not be many architectural gems, but the 9th Ward is a cultural jackpot. Some of the city's best musicians, cooks and workers come from the area. The most famous resident is Fats Domino. He stayed in the neighborhood, though he could probably afford a suburban mansion. Fats knows his roots.

New Orleans down; is Mardi Gras out?

Posted: 7:34 p.m. ET, Friday, October 7
From Andreas Preuss, CNN Gulf Coast Bureau

A quick trip over the Greater New Orleans Bridge brought the CNN krewe to Algiers and Blaine Kern's Mardi Gras World. He is one of carnival's most prolific float builders, creating the rides of some major parades like Orpheus, Endymion and Bacchus. Their revelers snake through the streets in huge, blinking double-deck floats.

Obviously, Mr. Kern has a huge stake in the success of Mardi Gras. New Orleans is always looking for a good celebration -- in the best of times and worst. The business of bead tossing brings in an estimated $1 billion to the city's economy. It's a worldwide party event and a major fundraiser for New Orleans.

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Katrina damage at Mardi Gras World

We interviewed Mr. Kern in his gigantic Mardi Gras emporium. It was like a sauna. I was really sweating ... another NOLA summer humidity affliction. He was cool as a cucumber in his seersucker suit.

Another classic New Orleans character, Blain Kern was really upbeat. He said more people have signed up for the carnival than ever before. Call it support or sympathy, but it seems like the world is ready to help New Orleans get back to the business of partying.

He has talked about the idea of a scaled-down Mardi Gras. He did not explain what that meant. A route change, fewer attendees, different logistics? The reality is that you can't invite the world without hotel rooms. I also asked about the idea of corporate sponsorship, which is illegal in Orleans Parish.

He said he was not in favor of corporate logos on the floats, but was very happy to have companies pay the way for riders. At about $1,000 a pop for beads, costume and daylong party, there's big money to be made. It's a cottage industry that goes from local pizza vendors on the street to the factories of Asia, which supply most of the "throws" -- beads, cups, stuffed animals and other trinkets of carnival.

Kern is a very savvy man. Many locals believe he's a bit of an opportunist, but he definitely has his heart in the right place. And he's been out there bringing up the issue.

Old haunts and what has become of them

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