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NEW ORLEANS (Reuters) An impromptu entourage of "mourners" dressed in costume marched through New Orleans's French Quarter on Sunday in a jazz infused, alcohol-laced mock funeral procession for Hurricane Katrina.

Following a quartet of musicians playing funeral dirges, a couple of dozen revelers tossed beads to tourists and neighborhood residents as they wound their way through the historic district now coming back to life.
Like traditional Mardi Gras parades, the quartet was followed by a group of mourners wearing costumes, day-glow wigs, makeup and carrying provocative props. Two floats, one bearing a fake coffin with an expletive-laden adieu to Katrina, took up the rear.

On the narrow, debris-strewn streets, the marchers passed masked cleanup crews, troops, rescue workers and a small number of tourists, now are trickling back into the city.

Dawn Tolley, a mourner who chose to retire in New Orleans, held a ferret named Disaster while sipping a beer and throwing strings of plastic beads to bystanders who stepped out of bars to greet the parade.

"We needed to bid farewell to Hurricane Katrina," Tolley said, stroking the ferret she rescued from a cage as floodwaters rose. "She needs to be put to rest forever."

The storm decimated parts of the city, but Tolley said the essence of New Orleans, its carefree optimism, remains and must be protected.

"We're going to bring this city back one parade at a time," agreed Ray Kern, who carried bits of Katrina foliage studded with beads.

Dressed in a faux fur costume of iridescent green with a matching balaclava, mourner Jamie Dell'Apa said the theme of the parade was less important than the parade itself.

"Do we even need a theme to do this in New Orleans," said Dell'Apa, who was decked out as a sniper protecting a golf course green.

The raucous group also took on political issues.

J.L. Goldstein, dressed in a white tuxedo embroidered with bright blue Stars of David, said officials must avoid a quick fix like boosting gambling and instead look to the arts community and "street people" to regain the city's luster.

"There needs to be a long term approach," Goldstein said. "In the meantime, we will keep doing this."

Visitors are slowly returning to the tourist dependent city, but the sight of a familiar French Quarter tradition was also music to many residents' ears.

Chris Chandler, who lives in the French Quarter and hid from police in his apartment after Katrina hit on August 29, said the return of street music was a welcome reminder of better days.

"I walked these streets for days when there was nobody here," he said as he snapped photographs of the procession outside Johnny White's, a bar that never closed its doors before or after the storm. "It was like a dream, it seems to me now. This is the city I remember."
 
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