NEW ORLEANS- Hurricane Katrina ripped away part of the roof on the Louisiana Superdome as thousands of storm refugees huddled inside Monday.
Strips of metal were peeled away, creating two holes that were visible from the floor of the huge arena. Water dripped in and people were moved away from about five sections of seats directly below.
Others watched as sheets of metal flapped visibly and noisily. From the floor, more than 19 stories below the dome, the openings appeared to be 6 feet long.
"The superdome is not in any dangerous situation," Gov. Kathleen Blanco said.
General Manager Glenn Menard said he did not know how serious the problem was. "We have no way of getting anyone up there to look," he said.
Aside from the tear in the huge roof, the 77,000-seat steel-framework stadium, home of the NFL's New Orleans Saints, provided few comforts but at least had bathrooms and food donated by charities.
The wind that howled around the dome during the night was not heard in the interior of the building where the refugees were kept.
"Everybody slept last night. They didn't seem to have any problems," said Dr. Kevin Stephens Sr., in charge of the medical shelter in the Superdome. "They slept all over the place."
Power failed in the Superdome around 5 a.m. Monday, triggering groans from the crowd. Emergency generators kicked in, but the backup power runs only reduced lighting, not the air conditioning.
The Superdome opened its doors at noon Sunday, and New Orleans' most frail residents got priority. The stadium is by far the most solid of the Big Easy's 10 refuges for the estimated 100,000 city residents who don't have the means, or strength, to join a mandatory evacuation.
"They hadn't opened up and let us in here, there'd have been a lot of people floating down river tomorrow," said Merrill Rice, 64. "If it's as bad as they say, I know my old house won't stand it."
Residents lined up for blocks, clutching meager belongings and crying children as National Guardsman searched them for guns, knives and drugs.
Then Katrina's rain began, drenching hundreds of people still outside, along with their bags of food and clothing. Eventually, the searches were moved inside to the Superdome floor, where some people wrapped themselves in blankets and tried to sleep.
It was almost 10:30 p.m. before the last person was searched and sent to the lowest level of seats. Superdome regional vice president Doug Thornton estimated 8,000 to 9,000 were in the building when the doors finally closed for the 11 p.m. curfew.
More than 600 people with medical needs were inside. "And we sent another 400 to hospitals," said Gen. Ralph Lupin, who commands the 550 National Guard troops in the Dome.
"We've got sick babies, sick old people and everything in between," Stephens said. "We're seen strokes, chest pain, diabetes patients passing out, seizures, people without medicine, people with the wrong medicine. It's been busy."
Several of those taken to hospitals Sunday had chest pain, but as the heart of the storm approached on Monday, Stephens added that "anything like that has to be handled here. There's no way we can take anybody anywhere."
Thornton worried about how everyone would fare over the next few days, especially if water pressure fails.Portable toilets were ordered.
"We're expecting to be here for the long haul," he said. "We can make things very nice for 75,000 people for four hours. But we aren't set up to really accommodate 8,000 for four days."
The refugees were not allowed to spread out on the football field, sitting instead in stadium seats in case of flooding.
Morris Bivens, 53, a painter, came to the dome with his wife, daughter and five granddaughters ranging in age from 1 to 9.