Superdome Evacuation Stopped

Hurricane Katrina victims wait for transportation outside the Louisiana Superdome in New Orleans, Friday, Sept. 2, 2005. (AP Photo/The Baltimore Sun, Karl Merton Ferron)
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."