Katrina rips holes in Dome 15-20 ft. long, 4-5 ft. wide

Updated: August 31, 2005, 12:47 AM ET
ESPN.com news services

NEW ORLEANS -- 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 NFL, the New York Giants and the Saints are still unsure if the Superdome will be available to host a game between the two teams in Week 2 of the season, Sept. 18.

"Like everybody else, we are monitoring the hurricane," Pat Hanlon, the Giants' VP of communications, told the New York Post. "Our concern right now is for the well-being of the people along the Gulf Coast, not where we might play a game in almost three weeks."

Giants rookie cornerback Corey Webster had been looking forward to playing his first NFL road game just minutes from where his family lives and he attended college, but Hurricane Katrina has no doubt tempered his enthusiasm.

Webster's family lives in St. James, La., a small town 30 minutes from New Orleans, and the corner attended college at LSU. His parents, two sisters and nephews boarded up the family home in St. James and evacuated to Houston, where one of Webster's other sisters resides, according to the Post.

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.

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.

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."

"I know people want to leave, but they can't leave," he said. "There's 3 feet of water around the Superdome."

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.

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."

Information from The Associated Press was used in this report.