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New Orleans: Too soon to celebrate Mardi Gras?

Yes: 'I think we need to deal with what's real'

CNN.com asked two New Orleans residents affected by Hurricane Katrina to share their views on if New Orleans was holding Mardi Gras too soon after the storm.

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(CNN) -- Chiquita Simms lived in the Gentilly neighborhood of New Orleans until Hurricane Katrina destroyed her home. She and her son evacuated and are now living in Atlanta, Georgia. She explains why she believes the devastated Louisiana seaport should hold off on Mardi Gras events this year. Below are excerpts from a telephone conversation:

I'm not opposed to Mardi Gras -- I love it, I'm born and bred in it. What I am opposed to is my city prioritizing Mardi Gras over its people.

Everywhere you look there are blue roofs -- people are still without proper roofs. The downtown areas are nice, or I should say, they're better. Canal Street is OK; Bourbon Street is functioning; St. Charles Avenue is OK, but that's about it.

When you go into the neighborhoods, there's no housing for people. There is inadequate food, and they couldn't get sponsors because they can't afford the cleanup and the police, and you know, if you can't afford the party, you certainly shouldn't have one.

The mayor's made a comment. ... [Ray Nagin has] said that we can take these two weeks of Mardi Gras as a break from Katrina and take our minds off of it. As an evacuee, I don't ever have the luxury of taking my mind off Katrina until I have my life a little bit more stable.

I think having Mardi Gras sends the false message that our city is OK and that our people are OK, and that's it really going to contribute to our economy. I don't believe that it will.

People are going to probably get mad at me for saying this, but we've been doing Mardi Gras for 149 years prior to this year. This is the 150th anniversary. Our city is the poorest; the education system is horrible; our roads are full of potholes; we have the worst blighted property going.

In 149 years, this event has not benefited the communities that need it, so why would this year benefit them? Is that money going to go to the 9th Ward? You have to tell me how much, you have to show me a plan -- you're going to have to show me how it's going to benefit them this year unlike the last 149 years.

I don't think the city is getting back on its feet. When I went through the city on January 24, I went to the 17th Street levee, the one that breached. There's no one working on it. But when I drive down St. Charles, everybody is making Mardi Gras plans.

You can't tell me that you're rebuilding the city. You don't see any mass efforts or gutting out of houses, and I'm talking about the neighborhoods where people can't afford to do it, like the 9th Ward, which has mass devastation.

Mardi Gras is the tradition that it is, but I think we can live without it this year, [especially] with as much devastation as we've been through and knowing that 70 percent of the city still cannot return to live. I think we can do without it. To hell with tradition, I think we need to deal with what's real.

Instead of holding Mardi Gras, they need to organize. First, get some cohesion with the leadership. They're not even getting along with each other. I think they need to sit down and say, "Hey, everybody messed up from the top to the bottom, now let's look at how we can heal."

They need to show Americans that they are moving forward as leaders instead of being party planners. We need to sit down and stop arguing our private agendas and deal with Washington and get the type of aid that we need.

If we can build a democracy or stay in Iraq until we rebuild that country, then we can rebuild New Orleans. We need to focus on the solution and getting it done, not having a party. It's taken the focus off of what's really wrong with New Orleans.

The other side: No: 'Life must go on' | What do you think?

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