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Inside the Superdome: A toxic biosphere

MSNBC's Abrams speaks with reporter who toured damaged facility

Before Hurricane Katrina hit, New Orleans residents gathered to ride out the storm in what seemed like a pretty safe place, the Superdome, the city's football stadium, home to the New Orleans Saints. 

As we now know, the Superdome was anything but a safe haven.  Thousands of desperate people trapped there in the days after the hurricane with little food, water, no electricity, no air conditioning, reports of violence, even rape at the city's largest shelter. 

Now, the media is getting a first-look inside. Jeff Duncan is a reporter with "The New Orleans Times-Picayune,"  went inside the Superdome with a photographer late last week and he joined MSNBC's Dan Abrams on Wednesday to discuss what he saw.

To read an excerpt of their conversation, continue to the text below. To watch the video, click on the "Launch" button to the right.

DAN ABRAMS: Jeff, thanks for coming on the program.  So how bad was it? 

JEFF DUNCAN, REPORTER, "THE NEW ORLEANS TIMES-PICAYUNE":  Well you know we had read a lot about obviously the conditions in there being bad, so I wasn't shocked at the amount of debris and the amount of trash because you expected that.  But I was really surprised at the amount of damage that was done to the facility, a lot of shattered windows.  The suites were trashed.  The couches and chairs turned over. 

The Superdome offices were completely trashed with file cabinets and archives completely looted, so a lot of damage.  And I think that revealed the frustration of the people that were in there waiting for those buses, waiting to getting out of that place. 

ABRAMS:  Did you have to wear what looks like Hazmat suits that we see people wearing in one of your pictures? 

DUNCAN:  Oh, yes, of course.  I mean it's a very dangerous environment.  They weren't going to let anybody in there without wearing those protective gloves and gas masks and boots.  The people we went in with were contractors for hazardous waste removal companies who are right now in the bid process of trying to determine how bad the situation is there.  How much is it going to cost?  Because all of that has to be done before insurance adjusters and anybody can get into the facility to see exactly what it's going to cost to salvage the Superdome, if it will be salvaged, or if they're just going to tear it down. 

ABRAMS:  Now I know the Convention Center is being used as a sort of staging ground.  They're bringing people there, gathering them together and evacuating them from the Convention Center.  Is the Superdome being used at all at this point or is it just empty and they're just waiting to figure out what to do with it? 

DUNCAN:  That's exactly right.  Nobody is in that building at all right now.  It's being actually on lock-down guarded by the 82nd Airborne Division, which is here in town controlling a lot of the French Quarter.  It's just not a safe environment, so they really can't let anybody inside there for the time being.  I think it's going to be a few weeks before really these hazardous waste, hazardous material companies get in to do the work and get it decontaminated.

ABRAMS:  And is the hazardous material primarily sewage? 

DUNCAN:  Yes, sewage and of course, you've got you know human waste and you know the building is basically one big giant science project right now.  There's no circulation in there, a lot of water because the roof of the Superdome, which everybody has seen, has been stripped off.  That was all the weather coating that kept the water out and it just was allowed to seep down through.  So you've had this basically small little biosphere inside the Superdome for weeks now. 

Watch the 'Abrams Report' for more analysis and interviews on the top legal stories each weeknight at 6 p.m. ET on MSNBC TV.