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Dome is hot and filthy — but a welcome refuge

The 10,000 storm refugees in the sweltering Superdome awoke to flooded streets surrounding the structure and no word as to when they might leave.
The roof of the Louisiana Superdome is shredded by Hurricane Katrina's strong winds on Monday.
The roof of the Louisiana Superdome is shredded by Hurricane Katrina's strong winds on Monday.Bill Haber / AP
/ Source: The Associated Press

Desperate for fresh air, dozens of refugees from Hurricane Katrina slept on the walkway surrounding the Louisiana Superdome as conditions inside worsened and even more people were brought to the huge arena Tuesday.

National Guardsmen let some of the 10,000 people sheltering inside the arena take their bedding out onto the concourse, where it was cooler and the breeze was welcome.

“Oh God, fresh air, it’s so wonderful. It’s the first time I’ve wanted to breathe all day,” said Robin Smith, 33. “When you think what we could’ve gone through, it’s not too bad in there. But it’s certainly not as wonderful as this.”

The bathrooms were filthy and barrels overflowed with trash. With the air conditioning off since power went out Monday morning, the bricks were slick with condensation.

Better than the alternative
Despite the conditions, the Superdome was a welcome refuge for people rescued from the rising water in the city Tuesday. National Guard troops brought refugees in their big 2½-ton trucks, and Louisiana’s wildlife enforcement department brought more people by pickup.

Mary Stewart, 80, slid off the back of a National Guard truck with nothing but the clothes on her back, her purse and the shoe on her left foot.

“I was so scared I don’t feel I have any entrails any more,” said Stewart, who spent a harrowing night in the attic of a beauty salon in the city’s flooded Ninth Ward.

Beauty salon employee Kioka Williams, 23, said they had to hack through the ceiling to reach the attic as the water rose.

“Oh my God, it was hell,” she said. “We were screaming, hollering, flashing lights. It was complete chaos.”

The eight people in the salon were rescued early Tuesday by a police boat.

“I almost died in the night water,” Willie Anderson, 49, said as he arrived at the Superdome. He had spent the night in his attic in the inundated Ninth Ward.

Tough for patients
A groan rose from a group listing to a newscast when the devastation was detailed and officials in suburban Jefferson Parish said residents wouldn’t be allowed to return until Monday. One woman cried.

“We’re doing everything we can to keep these people comfortable,” Gen. Ralph Lupin, commander of the National Guard troops at the Superdome, said Tuesday morning. “We’re doing our best. It’s not getting any better but we’re trying not to let it get any worse.”

The situation was especially difficult for those in wheelchairs, who were lined up in rows five deep along a wall. One patient’s IV bag was attached to a stadium seating sign.

Officials were considering moving the patients to areas with better accommodations.

“This is just too hot, too primitive, too uncomfortable for the patients and too hard to work in for the medical people,” said Dr. Kevin Stephens Sr., head of the medical shelter in the Superdome.

Uncomfortable but safe
“I know people want to leave, but they can’t leave,” Lupin said. “There’s 3 feet of water around the Superdome.”

NBC's Brian Williams reported from the Superdome Tuesday morning that the streets had been dry Monday night and that water continued to flow into the surrounding area.

Two people had died, according to Doug Thornton, a regional vice president for the company that manages the 77,000-seat Superdome, of the NFL’s New Orleans Saints. He provided no details.

Katrina ripped two holes in the curved roof, but Superdome and government emergency officials stressed that they did not expect the huge roof to fail.

“I was OK until that roof fell off,” said 82-year-old Anice Sexton. “I was terrified then. Otherwise it hasn’t been too bad. People are so nice and the people staying here have really been cooperative. But the washrooms are terrible.”