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Surging Mardi Gras crowds pushed two children under parade...

By PETER M. ZOLLMAN

NEW ORLEANS -- Surging Mardi Gras crowds pushed two children under parade floats in separate incidents Tuesday, killing both youngsters and turning the riotous street celebration into the most tragic in memory.

The coroner's office said 2-year-old Margaret McKinzie of New Orleans was with her father when she was pushed under a float at the disbanding point of the Zulu parade. She was pronounced dead at Charity Hospital at 2:05 p.m.

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A hospital spokesman said a second child, Christian Lambert, 8, of New Orleans, was knocked off a ladder by a crowd as it fought for favors tossed by float riders in the Elks Krewe of Orleans parade. Spectators each year put boxes atop ladders along parade routes for children to sit on and view the festivities.

As the crowd pushed forward for a handful of trinkets, the ladder toppled and the child fell under the wheels of a passing float. He was pronounced dead at Charity Hospital at 3:35 p.m.

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A seemingly endless stream of parades snaked through mobs of people -- many disguised in masks -- celebrating the last day before the Lenten season in the 'city that care forgot.'

On Bourbon Street, the wall-to-wall crowd flowed along past hotel residents tossing beads and aluminum doubloons to screaming spectators below.

'Throw Grandma something, Mister, it's my first Mardi Gras!' read a sign on a box on the lap of Pearl Pleasants, 68, of Lynchburg, Va., who was waiting for Rex -- the King of Carnival -- to arrive.

The Rex parade, rolling for its 100th time since 1871, lost one of its most popular bands. The St. Augustine High School marching band, a blaring all-black unit from New Orleans that broke the color barrier when it marched for the first time in 1967, voted to bow out because one of its members was shot Sunday night in the Bacchus parade.

Detective John Walters, a white man and 10-year veteran of the city police force, Monday was suspended indefinitely from the force for violating department rules and firing his gun. An investigation into the shooting was under way.

Mardi Gras annually draws at least a million people to the downtown area, police estimate, and equally large crowds to the city's environs.

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Spectators began surging into the area about 6 a.m., setting up ladders and scaffolds to stake out the best place for watching the parade.

Zulu, a black parade originally started as a spoof on the pomp and pageantry of the white Mardi Gras celebrations, reached Canal Street about 11 a.m. The Zulu members, all wearing blackface, passed out glittering silver- and gold-colored coconuts as they swished their long grass skirts on the floats.

The Zulu coconuts -- the most prized of the Mardi Gras souvenirs -- were waved and taunted at the crowd. Riders on such floats as 'Big Shot of Africa' and the 'Witch Doctor' guzzled rum from pints and handed out decorated 4-foot long spears.

Joe Williams of neighboring Slidell, La., stood with a large white goose decoy perched atop his head, tied on with a big ribbon bow. A string of nine plastic ears of corn dangled around his neck.

'That's for decoying ducks,' Williams said with a straight face as his wife laughed. He sipped from a cup of -- what else? -- cold duck wine.

A man in a green- and-red plaid kilt played the bagpipe in the middle of Canal Street. Another man, dressed as the Pope, danced to the music.

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'Bless the city of New Orleans. It is just one big party,' said the costumed Pope, who told the crowd his alias was Czar de Popolinus of Belle Fourche, S.D.

Spectators claimed the streets of the city as their own, booing as cars tried to drive down the roadways before the parades began. Costumed people danced in the streets and entertained those who would not leave the spots they had staked out to watch the festivities.

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