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Mardi Gras intrudes on Katrina evacuees

By Gary Tuchman
CNN

Editor's note: In our Behind the Scenes series, CNN correspondents share their experiences in covering news. CNN national correspondent Gary Tuchman reports from New Orleans as the city tries to revive the tourist industry for Mardi Gras.

Gary Tuchman
CNN national correspondent Gary Tuchman reports from the Gulf Coast in the wake of Hurricane Katrina.

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NEW ORLEANS, Louisiana (CNN) -- New Orleans is preparing to welcome back tourists who want to celebrate Mardi Gras in the Big Easy.

The revelers will be heading to hotels also being used by about 4,000 people who lost their homes amid the devastation wrought by Hurricane Katrina.

It's an interesting dichotomy. In the New Orleans Intercontinental Hotel, I saw well-heeled tourists and displaced families carrying in groceries all together in the lobby.

After spending time with some of the homeless hotel residents, it's clear many are at a loss about what to do. They keep getting told their trailers are coming from the Federal Emergency Management Agency, but the temporary homes still haven't arrived.

Some want to go out and rent apartments, but rents have skyrocketed in this "new" New Orleans, and evacuees say these places are unaffordable. Many have received "eviction notices," and they don't know what to do next.

The types of people in the hotels run the gamut. There are families with small children, senior citizens and young people who live by themselves.

I talked with a 19-year-old woman who is on her own. She was planning to start college. Now, those plans are on hold as she tries to figure out where she is going to live.

I spent time with an elderly evacuee in her hotel room. Elise Boyer, whose home was destroyed, is happy in her temporary digs and says the employees at the Cotton Exchange Hotel have been nice to her.

Boyer spends most of her time watching TV, and she keeps her hotel room as tidy as she kept her home

Boyer has extra reason to be grateful -- the owners of the hotel have decided they will let her and the other evacuees stay indefinitely, even though they too have many other reservations for the rooms.

This demand has created a dilemma for many hotel managers throughout New Orleans: Kick out residents who are the soul of the city or turn back tourists whose money will help regenerate the Big Easy.

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