The Caesars Superdome is not only an icon of New Orleans football and skyline heritage, but also a symbol of the neglect of city officials and the resilience of residents.
In August 2005, when Hurricane Katrina struck, tens of thousands of New Orleans residents faced unimaginable challenges, losing their homes and access to basic necessities. At the time, more than 30,000 people found temporary shelter in the Superdome as they prepared to recover from the floods.
The stadium was far from being prepared to house people seeking refuge. City officials had refused to stock the dome with food and emergency supplies because they wanted residents to leave the city completely because the dome was “not a hotel.”
But when the stranded victims of the disaster found themselves in dire need of a place to go, around 500 National Guardsmen handled the situation as best they could. The evacuees took shelter in the rubble and desolation left in the structure that had hosted elated fans weeks before.
Many found themselves in total darkness when the dome’s backup generator failed. It also meant that the refrigeration system that kept the food from spoiling was not working. When the medical machines broke down, some people with health problems had to be transferred to hospitals. Those who could not find a place in the trucks to be transported had to stay in the dome.
Hurricane Katrina victims rest inside the Superdome on September 2, 2005 in New Orleans
US Navy handout photo dated September 05, 2005, showing members of the US Army National Guard leaving the New Orleans Superdome to patrol the streets in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina
The stadium was built to withstand most natural disasters, but it was not spared the damage from Katrina. Katrina sheared off much of the roof covering, with water leaking inside the stadium.
About 80 percent of the roof was damaged, with sunlight filtering through the holes and rain pouring inside.
Mayor Ray Nagin received a backlash for poor preparation before Katrina at the Superdome. When government agencies let the victims of Katrina down, they found the Superdome a last resort, but it quickly turned into hell.
As the temperature rose in the 1990s without air conditioning or rotting food, outraged victims plastered the stadium walls with feces and blood. Desperate mothers got what little formula they could find for their babies, and were told to throw away the diapers and reuse them because there was none.
Two elderly people died from pre-existing illnesses, one person overdosed, and a man committed suicide by jumping from upper level seats. Two, including a child, were raped while taking refuge in the stadium, the Seattle Times reported.
When the situation became unmanageable, the evacuees were taken to the Houston Astrodome and San Antonio.
The Superdome suffered $ 185.4 million in damage. The New Orleans Saints played their home games in 2005 in San Antonio at the Alamodome and Baton Rouge at Tiger Stadium.
When work began in January to clean up and renovate the Superdome, more than 4,000 tons of trash and debris were removed, along with 1.6 million square feet of destroyed carpet, 650,000 square feet of wall panels and 500 000 square feet of ceiling tiles. The 72,000 seats were cleaned and the crews repaired the roof.
Katrina wasn’t the first time the dome had been used as a public shelter. Prior to 2005, the stadium housed people affected in 1998 during Hurricane Georges and in 2004 during Hurricane Ivan.
People walk in high water in front of the Superdome on August 30, 2005 in New Orleans, Louisiana
The Superdome, where thousands of people remained while waiting to be evacuated after Hurricane Katrina hit, is seen on September 11, 2005 in downtown New Orleans, Louisiana
Workers begin work or repairs to the roof of the Louisiana Superdome on Saturday October 15, 2005 in New Orleans
Source: Professional football stadiums