The News Courier in Athens, Alabama

Lifestyle

October 4, 2012

Katrina victims take on hurricane tour operators



NEW ORLEANS (AP) — Some New Orleans residents and city officials are pushing back against tour operators who bus out-of-towners into the city's Lower 9th Ward, where Hurricane Katrina unleashed a wall of water that pushed homes off foundations and stranded residents on rooftops when the levees failed.

About 9 million people visit New Orleans each year, mostly to see its stately homes along oak-lined avenues, dine at its renowned restaurants and take in the jazz and ribaldry of Bourbon Street. But Katrina's devastation in August 2005 unleashed an unexpected cottage tourism industry, drawing a daily parade of rubbernecking tourists for a close-up look at the city's hard-hit Lower 9th Ward.

Worried that a flood of tour buses and vans would interfere with clean-up efforts, the City Council approved an ordinance in 2006 banning them from crossing the prominent Industrial Canal entering the neighborhood that received Katrina's fury. Now, tour operators are crying foul, claiming the ordinance had been thinly enforced until recently.

They say a business that is bringing them and the city tourist dollars is being hurt.

"I can't afford to keep paying tickets," said David Lee Ducote, owner of Southern Style Tours.

As the Lower 9th Ward slowly rebuilds — vacant lots still attest to where homes once stood — visitor interest has also been piqued by housing built by actor Brad Pitt and his Make It Right foundation.

City Councilman Ernest Charbonnet, who represents the neighborhood, says residents complain the tour vehicles are blocking streets and damaging the roads. They also are weary of being gawked at.

Charbonnet said city officials didn't enforce the ordinance unless someone filed a formal complaint, an infrequent occurrence as a daily parade of buses, vans and shuttles packed with camera-wielding tourists trouped by the Pitt houses and the home of rock 'n roll star Fats Domino.

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