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Status of Saints-Bucs game in Superdome still to be determined

The Louisiana Superdome, for now still scheduled to host an NFL regular-season opener Sunday between the New Orleans Saints and Tampa Bay Buccaneers, appeared to be in good condition after the worst of Hurricane Gustav had passed, the stadium's operator said.

"We're in good shape," said Doug Thornton, vice president of SMG, the company that manages the Superdome and neighboring New Orleans Arena. "We've got some exterior signs ripped and things like that, downed fences and light poles blown over, but nothing major, nothing structural or nothing that would affect the interior condition of the building."

Thornton, who spearheaded the ambitious $200 million, eight-month renovation of the Superdome following Hurricane Katrina, remained in the stadium with a handful of staff during the storm Sunday night and Monday.

Thornton said there was no noticeable structural or interior damage, but stressed that a more thorough inspection still needed to be done. The stadium had yet to lose normal power as of Monday afternoon, he said.

While the dome may be in good shape, whether or not the Saints play there depends on several factors that may be out of stadium management's control.

Thornton said those matters include:

  • When the city allows residents to return, which affects not only the amount of fans who can attend but also the staff of approximately 2,500 needed to stage an NFL game, including police who handle security and may still be needed for post-hurricane patrols.
  • Whether suppliers can ship in needed food and drink for concession stands, suites and lounges. Thornton said all food had been shipped out before the storm for fear it could spoil if the power went out.

"Just based on my gut right now, all of it looks pretty positive," Thornton said. "But again, we don't have a full report on damage out in the community and how long it may take to restore power and all those things that may influence the decision."

If officials decided it was not practical to play the game in New Orleans this Sunday, it was not clear what the backup plan would be.

"We are continuing to monitor the situation in close coordination with the Saints," NFL spokesman Greg Aiello said. "Our focus today is on the brave people of the Gulf Coast. We have great admiration for them and for the public safety and emergency personnel who are tirelessly working to protect lives and property in that region. We will make an announcement at the appropriate time about the status of the Saints' game scheduled for Sunday in the Superdome."

Because Tampa Bay and New Orleans play each other twice by virtue of being in the same division, they could potentially flip-flop home dates. New Orleans is scheduled to visit Tampa Bay on Nov. 30.

Thornton said the dome would be available to host that game, which would be one day after Grambling State and Southern play there in the annual Bayou Classic.

Meanwhile, Thornton said the neighboring New Orleans Arena, home of the NBA's Hornets, also did not appear to have any serious damage. None of the windows in its atrium around the main entry broke. It appeared flying debris dented the siding, "but that could be easily fixed," Thornton said. He also said a large outdoor video board was out.

There were no concerts or other major events scheduled in the arena this week, Thornton said.

When Katrina hit on Aug. 29, 2005, high winds ripped a hole in the Superdome's roof, allowing rain water to pour in. With power out in New Orleans humid late summer, mold festered. In addition, the stadium was trashed by about 30,000 evacuees who were stuck there for days without plumbing or air conditioning.

The entire roof was replaced and much of the inside gutted and disinfected before suites, concession stands and club lounges were rebuilt in time for the Saints' 2006 home opener.

This time, New Orleans was under a mandatory evacuation and the Superdome, a vital economic engine for the city for all the major events it hosts, is no longer used as a refuge of last resort.

Copyright 2008 by The Associated Press.

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