NOLA's Superdome: From devastation to recovery

(CBS News) NEW ORLEANS - Super Bowl XLVII will bring many happy fans, celebrities and VIPs to the domed stadium that for one misery-filled week in 2005 was the refuge of last resort for some 30,000 residents seeking shelter from Hurricane Katrina.

New Orleans gears up for the Super Bowl
Super Bowl XLVII on CBSSports.com

Seven years later, memories of what Katrina wrought hover over New Orleans, even as hosting the Super Bowl represents the city's continuing recovery. That the game is being played in the Superdome serves as a reminder for many here of the city's devastation and its resilience.

Doug Thornton, the Superdome's general manager, will be throwing a party for 75,000 people at Super Bowl XLVII. But, in August of 2005, he saw only ruin at the Superdome.

"What is so remarkable about this is it's a better place, a much better place," he said. "When I left here after Katrina, I thought I was seeing the Superdome for the last time. I did not think we would rebuild it and certainly I didn't think we would be hosting another Super Bowl here."

After Katrina, the Superdome became a symbol of failure and despair. Twenty-thousand refugees lived there, for one miserable week, without power, water or sanitation.

Superdome Reopens

Three years ago, Thornton showed CBS News it was almost worse than any of them knew. There were marks in the building's lower levels that show the floodwater rose within 8 inches of shorting out the facility's emergency generators.

"Our plan was if this water rose any more than 4 or 5 inches in a five-hour span we were gonna go to Plan B and get people out of here," he said.

Thorton will never paint the walls that illustrate just how close they came to needing to do that, explaining that it's "a living history to what happened here on that night."

Fast-forward almost eight years, to the rebuilt, renamed Mercedes Benz Superdome. The structure cost $336 million, but the Superdome has a new roof, a new exterior skin, thousands of new seats.

"You cant drive anywhere without seeing it, you can't go to an event in the city without coming here," said Thorton. "It was the first major large project that was finished after Katrina, and after all the bad things that took place here and what it symbolized here during that period of misery, it represents all the good now."

Retired Saints quarterback Archie Manning is this city's favorite adopted son. In 1975, he completed the very first pass in the Superdome during an exhibition game and says rebuilding the facility was important for many reasons.

"The Super Bowl is so important to New Orleans as we try to rebuild this city," said Manning "The fans are going to come back here and the football team got better and the whole thing helped with everyone's emotional recovery as we try to physically rebuild our city too."

Baltimore and San Francisco will take the field Sunday, but New Orleans, and its Superdome, have already won Super Bowl XLVII.

For Mark Strassmann's full report, watch the video in the player above.

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