NEW ORLEANS – Beams of sunlight poke through holes in the roof of the Louisiana Superdome, just as they did when the wind-battered stadium served as a trash-filled, sweltering, chaotic shelter for 30,000 people displaced by Hurricane Katrina last year.
This time the holes are a sign not of a devastated city, but of one racing to bounce back.
On Thursday, exactly four months before the New Orleans Saints are to host the Atlanta Falcons in the city's first NFL football game since the storm, more than half the Superdome's 9.7-acre roof had been replaced. Workers have been cutting out old decking one small section at a time to install new sheets of galvanized steel.
Reporters who were given a tour of the stadium saw how far the work had come: 4,000 tons of trash and debris removed, along with 1.6 million square feet of wrecked carpeting, 650,000 square feet of wall board and 500,000 square feet of ceiling tiles. About 70,000 seats have been cleaned, dried and neatly covered in plastic while the roof work continues.
Six months after the $185.4 million demolition and cleanup job began, there's still plenty of work left, however — so much that some of it will have to wait until well after the first home game.
The suite levels are a forest of metal studs with a canopy of exposed wiring and crisscrossing ceiling tile supports. Once-carpeted concourses and ramps now have floors of dusty concrete, awaiting sealant and an epoxy resin finish. What were once concession stands are empty spaces defined only by stacked cinder blocks where a counter might be.
As for the field where fans hope to see top draft pick Reggie Bush run wild? It has yet to be installed atop a concrete floor that is currently home to a pair of large cranes, stacks of roof decking and other construction materials.
"It's an unprecedented situation in American stadium history," said Doug Thornton, regional vice president of SMG, the company that manages the state-owned Superdome. "There's no other stadium that's been destroyed by a natural disaster like this that you can look to for guidance. We've had to kind of start from scratch."
The Federal Emergency Management Agency is paying for about $120 million of the project, and the NFL is pitching in with multimillion-dollar grants to dress up suites and premium seating areas.
The job is not expected to be complete until around the start of the 2007 preseason in August. But officials stressed that the dome will be "football ready" when the Saints host the Falcons on Sept. 25, even if the suites have bare concrete floor and other finishing touches await.
The 30-year-old stadium's three-level seating plan will be the same, with the most noticeable difference being a thin video board, called a ribbon board, replacing the facade of the upper deck. Scoreboard video screens behind each end zone will be enlarged.
All seats are expected to be ready for the first game, as are more than 80 percent of the concession areas.
And not quite 13 months after they broke down when people needed them most, all the bathrooms will be working — and clean.