3 months later, a return to the Superdome
The steel doors will be fine
NEW ORLEANS – On the day Katrina hit, once the winds picked up and made reporting from outside the dome impossible, we moved inside, where the evacuees who had spent the night were already suffering in the dirty and dank facility.
That’s when the roof started to go. The storm was tearing it apart. We were able to transmit a cell phone photo back to the «Today» show, and report by telephone.
«The brightness you see is in fact daylight,» I told Matt Lauer on Aug. 29. «With this roof open, I just saw someone walk down one of the aisles in the stands with an umbrella.»
As the damage continued, we interviewed Doug Thornton, the Superdome general manager, who assured us the dome would hold.
«The steel doors will be fine,» he said. «We’re in good shape. The building itself is structurally OK.»
Tuesday we talked to Doug Thornton again. It’s been three months, and his goal is a comeback for the Superdome. But getting that day out of his head is another matter.
«I guess what I want to remember the most is that sound,» he says. «It’s a sound I’ll never forget, and my concern for the safety of these people in the building.»
It was during the height of Katrina that we met Albert Bryan. He had tried to evacuate, but the traffic north was too heavy, so like thousands of others, he came here. With him were eight members of his extended family. We found them in Section 121 of the Superdome. He insisted on looking on the bright side.
«It’s better than home,» he said.
After Katrina and after months of searching, we finally found Albert Bryan. These days he’s living in San Antonio, Texas. It turns out he was evacuated there by bus, after a week in the Superdome. His family members were all on different buses, scattered about in three separate Texas cities. He recently came back to his New Orleans home, which is now uninhabitable. He saved a favorite chair and little else.
Tuesday, at our invitation, Albert Bryan returned to the Superdome for the first time since Katrina. It was a tough trip back. The memories are powerful. And in many ways the Superdome is unchanged. In the hallways, the wrappers from the military rations are still here. In the stairwell, there is still human waste. And then Albert made another discovery — a heroin needle.
«I witnessed several people shooting heroin in the wide open space,» recalls Albert.
When we got to what was his home for a week — Section 121 — Albert remembered the awful conditions, including thousands of people going to the bathroom out in the open, the guns and drugs he saw, the rival street gangs inside the dome and the deaths — estimates range from half a dozen to twice that.
Is he angry at the government who didn’t help him?
«Well, my biggest feelings about that, the biggest emotions I have about the whole situation, is not anger,» he says. «I guess disappointment.»
How did he hold it together?
«I had to hold it together,» he says. «I had eight other people with me.»
Albert figures if he survived Katrina, he can survive anything.
Albert has a Masters degree in social work. He is plotting his comeback in San Antonio, even though he’s been unable to find work since Katrina.
And the Superdome is plotting a comeback of its own. They are vowing to re-open one year from now, in November 2006. There’s a big question mark about who will play here. The city is very worried that their football team, the New Orleans Saints, may move to Los Angeles.