New Orleans officials have formed a new group to address Mardi Gras-season parade safety following the deaths of two people in float-related accidents last week.
New Orleans Mayor LaToya Cantrell and Police Superintendent Shaun Ferguson banned tandem floats for the remainder of the season in response to the deaths. The decision prompted several Mardi Gras krewes with parades scheduled Sunday through Tuesday to reorganize their larger parade floats into smaller individual units.
2020 parade deaths
On Wednesday, Feb. 19, Geraldine Carmouche, a 58-year-old resident of New Orleans and Mardi Gras fan, was killed when she tried to cross the parade by going between two sections of a tandem float. She reportedly tripped over a hitch connecting the sections and was run over when the vehicles began to move again.
Ms. Carmouche’s death prompted officials to cancel the remainder of the Mystic Krewe of Nyx parade and re-route the darkened parade floats through a different part of the city.
On Saturday evening, Joseph Sampson, also a 58-year-old New Orleans resident, was killed during the Endymion parade. Some reports indicate he could have been inadvertently pushed by the throw-catching crowd. Some witnesses say he may have stumbled into the path of a float while trying to catch a throw. Both deaths remain under investigation.
City officials indicated that the results of the investigations could inform the safety regulations governing future parades. The new Mardi Gras safety group formed by Mayor Cantrell and Superintendent Ferguson will meet this week or early next week to discuss making the parades safer.
“No doubt there will be changes” next year, Ferguson told the Associated Press. “What those changes will be, I don’t know.”
The safety group will hear suggestions from the family members of the victims, krewe members, city officials, and others. Some ideas already being discussed include setting up barricades along the entire parade route instead of just at major intersections and installing accordion barriers between the sections of tandem floats.
Superintendent Ferguson told a news conference that setting up barricades along 5- to 7-mile-long parade routes would be time-consuming and require many workers to erect and dismantle. Several other workers would have to be on hand to move barricades out of the way for emergency vehicles.
Past fatal accidents
Fatal accidents directly related to Mardi Gras floats have been extremely rare in New Orleans until the 2020 season. The last spectator deaths occurred in 1981 when a crowd of people accidentally knocked over a ladder on which an eight-year-old boy was watching the parade on Mardi Gras Day. The boy fell behind the cab of a flatbed trailer holding a parade float.
Earlier that same season, a three-year-old girl was crushed to death when a surging crowd knocked her from her father’s arms. The girl landed under the front wheel of a Krewe of Zulu float at the parade’s disbanding point.
In 2008, a Krewe of Endymion float rider was killed after getting off a three-part tandem float at the end of the parade. The krewe member landed in front of the float’s third section, which lurched forward and ran over him.
The 2020 parade deaths have further added to public safety concerns that mounted in New Orleans after the Hard Rock Hotel collapsed while under construction in October, killing three workers and injuring several others. The partially collapsed building still looms over the upper west side of the French Quarter with two corpses trapped inside. It is slated for demolition in mid-March.