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The city’s historic French Quarter, which normally vibrates nightly with revelry and music, saw houses severely damaged and cars smashed by tumbling masonry. On the famed Burgundy Street, a two-story brick outbuilding that once had been a slave quarters collapsed.
After the storm passed, police circled the quarter with bullhorns shouting, “The French Quarter is closed. This is state of emergency. Please, please get off the streets or you will be detained.”
But the old city, built on the highest ground around, weathered the blow from the Category 4 storm in grand style. Gail Henke could think of no better way to celebrate than to belly up to a bar on Bourbon Street with a vodka and cranberry juice. Call it a libation to the storm gods and the city’s football team.
“You know what? There’s a reason why we’re called the Saints,” the 53-year-old tour booker told an Associated Press reporter as she communed with 20 or so other survivors. “Because no matter what religion you are, whether you’re a Catholic, whether you’re voodoo, whether you’re Baptist or so on, so on, and so on — we all pray. We all pray.
“I’m not a religious fanatic. But God has saved us.”
Katrina’s howling gales shattered the glass facade of the luxury 27-story Hyatt Regency hotel, leaving soaked and torn curtains blowing crazily out of smashed windows, after the building’s triangular construction seemed to have created a wind-tunnel effect.
Other city center skyscrapers lost windows, and shattered glass flew through the air like shrapnel in streets littered with debris, including entire air-conditioning units torn from apartment or office buildings.
The Superdome had part of its outer roof peeled off, its air conditioning fail, few of its lights work and its water pressure diminish — making the bathrooms filthy. For the refugees inside, many of them poor and frail, the football stadium was welcome, but uncomfortable.
“We’ve got sick babies, sick old people and everything in between,” said Dr. Kevin Stephens, who was in charge of the medical shelter in the Superdome. “We’ve seen strokes, chest pain, diabetes patients passing out, seizures, people without medicine, people with the wrong medicine. It’s been busy.”
Morris Bivens, 53, a painter, came to the stadium with his wife, daughter and five granddaughters ranging in age from 1 to 9.
“I had to come,” he said. “Not for me. I ride these out all the time. But I knew I couldn’t save those children in this one if something happened.”
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