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Finally, a long-deserved celebration for New Orleans

NEW ORLEANS -- Martha Brown stood looking at the field in
the Louisiana Superdome, tears streaming down her face, her
sister's arm around her shoulders.

Like so many others in the newly renovated stadium Monday night,
Brown was busy storing new memories to replace the ones she'd
carried around since Hurricane Katrina tore through the city,
turning the Superdome into a symbol of misery and suffering.

"My mother and father, my sister, her husband, my nieces and
nephews were all brought here after their house flooded," Brown
said. "I was in Atlanta seeing it on television. I thought they
should tear this place down, but I'm so glad they didn't."

Brown's family, now settled in Dallas, couldn't make the opening
of the Superdome, so Brown, a bank clerk, and her sister came for
them.

"They're watching on television," she said as the New Orleans Saints wrapped up a 23-3 victory over the Atlanta Falcons.
"Tonight wipes out a lot of hurt."

The more than 68,000 other people in the Superdome shared in the
sentiment, and broke into celebration as the game ended. Vehicles
blasted their horns in jubilation outside the stadium, while Saints
owner Tom Benson danced on the stadium's sidelines, capping a day
of revelry like few others seen since Katrina flooded the city more
than a year ago.

Earlier Monday, rock bands blasted and tailgate parties served
up barbecue and brew as thousands of people poured into the
streets, hoping to forget about Katrina during a Mardi Gras-like
celebration of the Saints' first home game since the storm.

Crowds swamped in a human sea, creating a huge traffic jam for
the team's emotional return and the reopening of the stadium, which
underwent $185 million in repairs to erase damage done during and
after Katrina.

"This is exactly what the city needs," said Saints season-ticket holder Clara Donate, 58, who lost her home and all her
possessions to Katrina's floodwaters. "We all need something else
to think about."

The Saints and the Atlanta Falcons were both undefeated at 2-0
early in the NFL season, and the game received a Super Bowl
buildup. The Goo Goo Dolls played to the crowd outside the dome.
Green Day and U2 performed inside for the crowd.

Inside the noise was deafening, as fans chanted and cheered, and
waved white handkerchiefs, second-line fashion. Most stayed long
after the final seconds ticked off the clock, wanting to prolong
their enjoyment. But the crowd was good-natured and orderly,
Superdome spokesman Bill Curl.

"We needed this, said Lionel Hotard, 53, who said he was still
running from Katrina this time last year. "We needed something to
cheer about and this is it. This puts life back in the city and boy
do we need it."

Even with its gleaming new cover, the Superdome remained a
symbol of Katrina's misery. Tens of thousands of storm victims
suffered there in withering heat after last summer's hurricane
filled the city with stinking floodwaters.

The Saints had not played a regular-season home game since 2004.
They last played in the Superdome in a 2005 preseason game a few
days before Katrina.

After the storm, the Saints became the NFL's traveling show,
establishing a base in San Antonio and playing every game on the
road amid speculation that owner Tom Benson might not bring them
back to New Orleans.

Even now, a high-rise hotel, an office tower and an upscale
shopping center stand empty just a few hundred feet from the
stadium, with white boards covering blown-out windows. A few miles
away, entire neighborhoods are wastelands of decaying houses.

Amid the desolation, some residents could not bring themselves
to celebrate the team's return.

Irma Warner, 71, and her husband, Pascal Warner, 80, live in an
apartment in suburban Metairie while working six days a week to
restore a home flooded by 7 feet of water in New Orleans' Lakeview
neighborhood.

"We rode around through the Ninth Ward yesterday," Irma Warner
said. "When I saw that, I thought, how can they spend $185 million
on the Superdome. What about all these poor people?"

But she appeared to be in the minority. Downtown offices and
City Hall shut down early in anticipation of crowds at the
Superdome.

"This is the best holiday since Mardi Gras," said Tanyha
Brown.