Texans set to practice for first time since Hurricane Ike

HOUSTON -- The Houston Texans will resume practicing Tuesday with uncertainty about their future after Hurricane Ike seriously damaged Reliant Stadium.

Aerial photos of the stadium's retractable roof showed five pieces missing, with four of them concentrated on one end of the stadium, and officials said large pieces of debris had fallen into the stadium.

The $352 million stadium, which was the first in the NFL to have a retractable roof, has been the Texans' home since their inception in 2002.

The Texans' indoor practice facility, or "bubble," located across the street from the stadium, was deflated during the storm and wasn't damaged. Houston also has two outdoor practice fields next to the bubble that are operational.

"This is a huge endeavor, we have four facilities, over 3.7 million square feet and 350 acres at Reliant Park and we are currently assessing the full extent of the damage sustained," said Shea Guinn, the president of SMG-Reliant Park, which manages the facilities. "While we have made tremendous progress in the clean up effort, the full assessment will take a few more days and we expect our administrative operations to be open by Wednesday."

Texans vice president of communications Tony Wyllie said the team will return to practice Tuesday after being off since Thursday night. A full practice schedule will be released later this week. The team's offices remained closed Monday, were expected to reopen Tuesday, but only team and stadium personnel will be allowed in the facility this week.

SMG-Reliant Park said in a statement that representatives from Walter P. Moore, the engineering firm which designed the building's structural systems, have conducted a "preliminary structural inspection" that revealed no damage to the primary roof structure, only to large pieces on the top. More detailed inspections will be done over the next few days, SMG said.

The roof manufacturer will also inspect the fabric roof material that was ripped off the top of the stadium.

"Once this assessment is complete, more detailed information can be provided as to when Reliant Stadium will become operational for events," the statement said.

Harris County Judge Ed Emmett, the supervisor of the county's hurricane cleanup efforts, flew over Reliant Stadium in a helicopter Sunday to survey the damage. He had no updates on the stadium's condition or repairs Monday, but said the storm had blown off doors and allowed water to get inside.

"The damage is pretty bad," Emmett said. "There were roof panels that were gone. And my first question was, 'Where did they go?' A lot of the roof damage just came right down into the stadium."

The county owns the stadium, but Emmett acknowledged that getting it repaired was not a high priority. The vast parking lot next to the stadium was being used as the main staging area for trucks delivering food, water and ice to distribution centers set up around the county.

"We're trying to take care of people right now," he said. "It (the stadium) is obviously something that is going to affect us and the Texans and all the people that use it. Right now, our focus is on the people."

Emmett said the Astrodome, Reliant Stadium's next-door neighbor, was not damaged. Opened in 1965, the Astrodome has hardly been used since the Houston Oilers moved to Tennessee in 1996, the Houston Astros opened Minute Maid Park in 2000, and Reliant Stadium opened in 2002.

"There's a cruel irony in that," Emmett said.

Houston's game with Baltimore, scheduled for Sunday before being pushed to Monday and eventually postponed, has been rescheduled for Nov. 9. The Texans will travel to Nashville to face the Titans on Sunday.

It's unclear if the Texans could simply play with the roof open, or even if it will open in its current state. Also unclear is if repairs can be made in time for the next home game on Oct. 5.

The team enacted a policy in 2006 allowing the roof to be open for games only when it is between 50 and 80 degrees after fielding scores of complaints after leaving fans sweltering when it was open for their first game in 2005.

Tennessee coach Jeff Fisher thinks it was a good move to allow the Texans do be off this weekend to deal with the hurricane.

"At least they've been given time to handle the distractions, if you will, at home," Fisher said. "Hopefully, things will be in a situation where they'll be able to deal with (football). As far as their mind-set, players and coaches are resilient. Once you know the families are OK, you go back to work and you prepare and you get ready to play a ballgame."

Sunday's missed game will count as the Texans' bye, which was originally scheduled for Oct. 26; they'll host Cincinnati that day.

So the Texans definitely will play their first three games on the road.

New Orleans played all of its games away from the city after the Saints were displaced by Hurricane Katrina in 2005. Four games were played at LSU, three in San Antonio and one in East Rutherford, N.J., against the New York Giants.

Copyright 2008 by The Associated Press

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