National Guard members halted the evacuation of the Superdome early Saturday after buses transporting the refugees of Hurricane Katrina stopped rolling.
About 2,000 people remained in the stadium and could be there until Sunday, according to the Texas Air National Guard. They had hoped to evacuate the last of the crowd before dawn Saturday.
Guard members said they were told only that the buses had stopped coming and to close down the area where the buses were loaded.
"We were rolling," Capt. Jean Clark said. "If the buses had kept coming, we would have this whole place cleaned out already or pretty close to it."
The remaining refugees remained orderly, sitting down after hearing the news.
Guard members reported that the operation for the most part had gone smoothly Friday. Two women had miscarriages and a few people had to be removed from the buses for drinking.
At one point Friday, the evacuation was interrupted briefly when school buses rolled up so some 700 guests and employees from the Hyatt Hotel could move to the head of the evacuation line, much to the amazement of those who had been crammed in the stinking Superdome since last Sunday.
"How does this work? They (are) clean, they are dry, they get out ahead of us?" exclaimed Howard Blue, 22, who tried to get in their line. The National Guard blocked him as other guardsmen helped the well-dressed guests with their luggage.
The 700 had been trapped in the hotel, next to the Superdome, but conditions were considerably cleaner, even without running water, than the unsanitary crush inside the dome. The Hyatt was severely damaged by the storm. Every pane of glass on the riverside wall was blown out.
Mayor Ray Nagin has used the hotel as a base since it is across the street from city hall, and there were reports the hotel was cleared with priority to make room for police, firefighters and other officials.
As the evacuations continued late Friday, officials sought to comfort refugees by handing out Meals Ready to Eat and bottled water.
The conditions in the dome stayed miserable even as the crowds shrank after buses ferried thousands to Houston a day earlier. While the evacuation resumed Friday, the press of people on the bridge outside the arena was just as great as before.
Capt. Andrew Lindgren with the Air National Guard said 8,000 to 10,000 people remained in the Superdome. Most of them were jammed on the ramps leading out.
Friday's evacuations began about 9 a.m., halted for about an hour and then resumed two hours later.
Things reached such a state inside that people opted to stand on the broiling brick walkway, jammed shoulder to shoulder in temperatures that Pollard estimated had reached 125 degrees in the middle of the crowd. The sun blazed down from the cloudless sky and officials flew in a helicopter for all-too brief moments under the fan.
It didn't matter: People passed out one after another. They were carried out on tables. National Guardsmen picked them up and took them in their arms. The medical area in the nearby shopping mall was full of victims being fanned, given water. A nurse said they all were felled by the heat.
"Everyone here is doing all they can with the assets they have," Pollard said. "We just don't have the assets."
Medical help was limited. Much of the medical staff that had been working in the "special needs" arena had been evacuated. Dr. Kenneth Stephens Sr., head of the medical operations, said he was told they would be moved to help in other medical areas.
Authorities estimated they could move about 1,000 people an hour when the buses are in place.
The arena's second-story concourse looked like a dump, with more than a foot of trash except in the occasional area where people were working to keep things as tidy as possible.
Bathrooms had no lights, making people afraid to enter, and the stench from backed-up toilets inside killed any inclination toward bravery.
"When we have to go to the bathroom we just get a box. That's all you can do now," said Sandra Jones of eastern New Orleans.
Her newborn baby was running a fever, and all the small children in her area had rashes, she said.
"This was the worst night of my life. We were really scared. We're getting no help. I know the military police are trying. But they're outnumbered," Jones said.
People brought tables and chairs from restaurants and anything else they could find to make conditions a bit more livable. On one row, people had staked out their space with a row of blankets and used brooms to sweep it clean.
"We're just trying to keep a little order. It's bad. We're trying not to let it get any worse," said Michele Boyle, 41.
As for the bathrooms, "I'm trying not to eat anything so I won't have to deal with it," Boyle said.
Those who did want food were waiting in line for hours to get it, said another refugee, Becky Larue, of Des Moines, Iowa.
Larue and her husband arrived in the area Saturday for a vacation but their hotel soon told them they had to leave and directed them to the Superdome. No directions were provided, she said.
She said she was down to her last blood pressure pill and had no idea of when they'll get out or where to get help.
"I'm really scared. I think people are going into a survival mode. I look for people to start injuring themselves just to get out of here," she said.
James LeFlere, 56, was trying to remain optimistic.
"They're going to get us out of here. It's just hard to hang on at this point," he said.
Janice Singleton, a worker at the Superdome, said she got stuck in the stadium when the storm hit. She said she was robbed of everything she had with her, including her shoes.
"They tore that dome apart," she said sadly. "They tore it down. They taking everything out of there they can take."
Then she said, "I don't want to go to no Astrodome. I've been domed almost to death."