Effect of Hurricane Katrina on the Louisiana Superdome

People seeking shelter in the Superdome before the arrival of Hurricane Katrina.

The Louisiana Superdome (which is now known as the Mercedes-Benz Superdome) was used as a "shelter of last resort" for those in New Orleans unable to evacuate from the city when Hurricane Katrina struck on August 29, 2005.

Past hurricanes and Katrina preparationEdit

Hurricane Katrina was the third time the dome had been used as a public shelter. It was previously used in 1998 during Hurricane George and again in 2004 during Hurricane Ivan, on both occasions for less than two days at most.

Despite these previous periods of emergency use, as Katrina approached the city, officials had not stockpiled enough generator fuel, food, and other supplies to handle the needs of the thousands of people seeking refuge there. According to an article in Time, "Over the years city officials have stressed that they didn't want to make it too comfortable at the Superdome since it was always safer to leave the city altogether. "It's not a hotel," the director of emergency preparedness for St. Tammany Parish told the Times-Picayune in 1999."[1]

Hurricane KatrinaEdit

Refugees on the field inside the Superdome, August 28.

Approximately 9,000 residents and 550 National Guardsmen sheltered in the Superdome as Katrina came ashore on August 28, 2005. Maj. Gen. Bennett C. Landreneau, Adjutant, Louisiana National Guard, said that the number of people taking shelter in the Superdome rose to around 15,000–20,000 as search and rescue teams brought more people from areas hit hard by the flooding.[2]

The Superdome was built to withstand most natural catastrophes. The roof was estimated to be able to withstand winds with speeds of up to 200 mph (320 km/h) but flood waters could still possibly reach the second level 20 feet (6.1 m) from the ground, making the structure an unreliable shelter in severe rain and wind. When looking into the origins of the claims about 200 mph (320 km/h) wind security in the Superdome, CNN reported that no engineering study had ever been completed on the amount of wind the structure could withstand.[citation needed] The building's engineering study was underway as Hurricane Katrina approached and was put on hold. It was used as an emergency shelter although it was neither designed nor tested for the task.

On August 29, 2005, at about 6:20 AM EDT, the electricity supply to the dome failed. The stadium's own emergency generator was able to power the internal lighting but little else; the building’s air conditioning system would no longer operate, nor would the refrigeration system which was keeping supplies of food from spoiling.

A few hours later, at 9:00 AM EDT, reports from inside the Superdome were that part of the roof was "peeling off" in the violent winds. Daylight could be seen from inside the dome, and rain was pouring in. The Associated Press stated there were two substantial holes, "each about 15 to 20 feet (6.1 m) long and 4 to 5 feet (1.5 m) wide," and that water was making its way in at elevator shafts and other small openings around the building.[3]. Ultimately, the damage to the roof proved not to be catastrophic, with the two repairable holes and the ripping off of most of the replaceable white rubber membrane on the outer layer.

Lack of supplies and organizationEdit

Despite the planned use of the Superdome as an evacuation center, government officials at the local, state and federal level were criticized for poor planning and preparation. On August 28, the Louisiana National Guard delivered three truckloads of water and seven truckloads of MREs (meals ready to eat), enough to supply 15,000 people for three days. However, there was no water purification equipment on site, nor any chemical toilets, antibiotics, or anti-diarrheals stored for a crisis. There were no designated medical staff at work in the evacuation center, no established sick bay within the Superdome, and very few cots available that hadn't been brought in by evacuees. The mayor of New Orleans had stated that as a "refuge of last resort," only limited food, water, and supplies would be provided.[citation needed] Residents who evacuated to the Superdome were warned to bring their own supplies with them.

By August 30, with no air conditioning, temperatures inside the dome had reached the upper 80s, and the punctured dome at once allowed humidity in and trapped it there. Food rotted inside the hundreds of unpowered refrigerators and freezers spread throughout the building. According to many , the smell inside the stadium was revolting due to the breakdown of the plumbing and sewerage system and the subsequent overflow of all toilets and urinals in the building.

When the serious flooding of the city began on August 30 after the levees had broken, the Superdome began to fill slowly with water , though it remained confined only to the field level. Later that day, Governor Blanco ordered New Orleans to be completely evacuated.[2] On August 31, it was announced that the Superdome evacuees would be moved to the Reliant Astrodome in Houston, Texas. With no power and no clean water supply, sanitary conditions within the Superdome had rapidly deteriorated.[4]

By this time, the population of the dome had nearly doubled within two days to approximately 30,000, as helicopters and vehicles capable of cutting through the deep flood water picked up stranded citizens and brought them to the only place left to go in the entire city.

Deaths, crime and assaultsEdit

People wait outside the Superdome, August 31.

As of August 31, there had been three deaths in the Superdome: two elderly medical patients who were suffering from existing illness, and a man who is believed to have committed suicide by jumping from the upper level seats. Rumours spread in the national media of reports of rape, vandalism, violent assaults, crack dealing/drug abuse, and gang activity inside the Superdome, most of which remain entirely unsubstantiated and without witnesses and are likely to be apocryphal. However, after a National Guardsman was attacked in a flooded locker room by an assailant, the National Guard inside the Superdome used barbed wire barricades to separate themselves from the other people in the dome.[5] On September 11, New Orleans Police Superintendent Eddie Compass reported there were "no confirmed reports of any type of sexual assault."[6]

While a few medical patients were able to be transported out by helicopter, it was not until August 31 that the first group of about 100 tourists (mainly international visitors to New Orleans) were "smuggled" out from the Superdome to the Sports Arena next door. This was done as covertly as possible so as to not cause rioting or charges of favoritism.[7]

National Guardsmen, accompanied by buses (475 total) and supply trucks, arrived at the Superdome on September 1. The buses were sent to pick up the evacuees from the Superdome and the Ernest N. Morial Convention Center, where more than 20,000 people had been crowded in similarly poor living conditions. 13,000 evacuees were taken to the Reliant Astrodome in Houston. By September 4, the last large group from the Superdome had been evacuated.

On September 7, speculation arose that the Superdome was now in such a poor condition that it would have to be demolished.[8] Instead, the State of Louisiana chose to repair and renovate the Superdome beginning in early 2006.[citation needed]

Closed for eventsEdit

Professional sportsEdit

After the events surrounding Katrina, the Superdome was not used during the 2005 NFL season. The New Orleans Saints played four of their scheduled home games at LSU's Tiger Stadium in Baton Rouge, three at the Alamodome in San Antonio, and one at Giants Stadium in East Rutherford, New Jersey.[9]

On October 21, 2005, Benson issued a statement saying that he had not made any decision about the future of the Saints.[10] The San Antonio Express-News reported that sources close to the Saints' organization said that Benson planned to void his lease agreement with New Orleans by declaring the Superdome unusable.[11] Ultimately, the Saints announced that they would be returning to New Orleans, with the first home game on September 25, 2006 against the Atlanta Falcons on Monday Night Football. Before that first game, the team announced it had sold out its entire home schedule to season ticket holders — a first in the franchise's history.[12]

College sportsEdit

Tulane Green WaveEdit

Tulane University postponed its scheduled football game against the University of Southern Mississippi until November 26. Their first game, against Mississippi State University, was played on September 17 at Independence Stadium in Shreveport, Louisiana. Overall, the team used six different stadiums for their six home games, including Tiger Stadium in Baton Rouge, Cajun Field in Lafayette, La., Joe Aillet Stadium in Ruston, La., Malone Stadium in Monroe, La., and Ladd–Peebles Stadium in Mobile, Ala.

Bayou ClassicEdit

The Bayou Classic was moved from the Superdome to Reliant Stadium in Houston, Texas. Grambling State University beat Southern University, 50-35.

New Orleans BowlEdit

The 2005 New Orleans Bowl between the University of Southern Mississippi and Arkansas State University was moved from the Superdome to Cajun Field in Lafayette. Southern Miss won over Arkansas State, 31–19.

Sugar BowlEdit

The 2006 Sugar Bowl, which pitted the University of Georgia Bulldogs against the West Virginia University Mountaineers, was moved from the Superdome to the Georgia Dome in Atlanta. The Mountaineers won, 38–35.


See alsoEdit


  1. ^ Carney, James; Tumulty, Karen; Ripley, Amanda; Thompson, Mark (September 13, 2005). "4 Places Where the System Broke Down". Time. Retrieved June 4, 2018.
  2. ^ a b "Governor: Evac Superdome, Rescue Centers". Fox News. Associated Press. August 30, 2005. Archived from the original on February 7, 2006. Retrieved April 27, 2020.
  3. ^ Gilman, Victoria (August 29, 2005). "Photo in the News: Hurricane Shreds Superdome Roof". National Geographic. Retrieved June 4, 2018.
  4. ^ "Britons describe hurricane ordeal". BBC. September 6, 2005. Retrieved June 4, 2018.
  5. ^ Scott, Nate (August 24, 2015). "Refuge of last resort: Five days inside the Superdome for Hurricane Katrina". USA Today. Retrieved June 4, 2018.
  6. ^ Younge, Gary (September 5, 2005). "Murder and rape - fact or fiction?". The Guardian. London. Retrieved June 4, 2018.
  7. ^ Paul A. Harris (2008). Diary from the Dome: Reflections on Fear and Privilege During Katrina. Vantage Press. ISBN 978-0-533-15852-2.
  8. ^ "New Orleans will force evacuations". CNN.com. CNN. September 7, 2005. Archived from the original on 2005-10-29. Retrieved June 4, 2018.
  9. ^ "Saints' home games: 4 at LSU, 3 in Alamodome". ESPN Internet Ventures, LLC. Associated Press. September 12, 2005. Retrieved June 4, 2018.
  10. ^ Anderson, Ed (October 22, 2005). "Benson: No Saints decision made". The Times-Picayune. Archived from the original on October 26, 2005. Retrieved June 4, 2018.
  11. ^ Orsborn, Tom (October 21, 2005). "Benson to bail on Superdome". San Antonio Express-News. Archived from the original on November 8, 2005. Retrieved June 4, 2018.
  12. ^ "Saints sell out season tickets". NFL.com. NFL Enterprises, LLC. September 19, 2006. Archived from the original on February 12, 2007. Retrieved June 4, 2018.