Before this year, Frederick Bell, 61, didn't know that Galveston, Texas even had Mardi Gras.
But after evacuating his East New Orleans home, Bell landed in the island community where he's remained after his house was inundated with 5-foot floods. Now he'll be participating in the Krewe Babalu parade, which rolls through Galveston on Friday night.
"Mardi Gras has been part of me all my life," said Bell, a supervisor with the Postal Service. "From the time I can remember, my mother would drag us out to parades."
Pre-Lenten carnivals across the country are set to absorb displaced residents like Bell, who want to remember tradition, as well as tourists who are shying away from a scaled-down Mardi Gras in post-Hurricane Katrina New Orleans, that only has an estimated 200,000 residents, down from 465,000 before the storm.
For Galveston locals, it's more the merrier.
"Mardi Gras has always been large and festive, and this year a good bit of people from the New Orleans area are participating," said Gladden Walters, III, the chairman of Krewe Babalu parade. "The bigger the better."
Mobile, Ala. is also expecting a large turnout. The metro area has absorbed anywhere from 20,000 to 60,000 residents displaced by hurricanes, and visitors are coming in larger numbers too, said Harriet Sharer, the communications coordinator for the Mobile Bay Convention and Visitors Bureau. Hotels have been filling up faster – and farther away from the city – than usual. Mobile, which had the first Mardi Gras celebration in the United Sates in the early 1700s, is adding two more parades to the lineup and expanding another.
"People want to put on the best show ever, after the horrible destruction that Katrina caused everyone," said Stephen Toomey, the owner of the largest Mardi Gras supply store in Mobile. "Katrina put a spot light on Mardi Gras in general, in all parts of our country people are wanting to celebrate, because New Orleans has been hindered somewhat."
Lafayette Parish, an area with about 190,000 people half-way between New Orleans and Houston, gained between 15,000 and 20,000 people after Hurricanes Katrina and Rita, said Gerald Breaux, the executive director of the Lafayette Convention and Visitors Bureau. But they happened to settle in a place that has a Mardi Gras that draws between 300,000 and 400,000 people over five days of celebrations.
"All of those people from the New Orleans area have a knowledge of Mardi Gras," he said. "We expect those people to be out in big numbers."