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Last Updated: Thursday, 29 September 2005, 03:04 GMT 04:04 UK
Deep-cleaning the Superdome
By Verity Murphy
BBC News, New Orleans

A JJ Maintenance truck parked outside the New Orleans Superdome
The crews cleaned up the outside before moving inside the stadium
Almost a month after the last person was evacuated out of the Superdome the clean-up crews are finally going home.

For three weeks the workers have cleansed the football stadium both inside and out, armed with just manual tools, such as rakes and brushes, and the safety equipment necessary for toiling in such unhygienic conditions.

Leading the effort was Frank Obregon, operations manager for J & J Maintenance, a contractor based in Austin, Texas.

"For the first week we had 90 people working 24 hours a day for seven days straight," he explained.

"Then for the next week we had 90 people working in two shifts, and for the final week we've had 45 people working on one shift."

Interior of the New Orleans Superdome after the initial clean-up
Now it's clean enough for the structural engineers to move in

The task was certainly an onerous one; the hundreds of people who were forced to take refuge there in desperate conditions when Hurricane Katrina hit had certainly left their mark.

"It was covered in trash and the restrooms were absolutely filthy. The toilets had faeces three inches above the seat. The bowl was full and it was sitting atop that like ice cream, and even the sinks and the floor had been used," Mr Obregon said.

Immunised workers

Mr Obregon's workers were equipped with all the safety gear they needed, including close fitting breathing apparatus, so they would not have to endure the terrible stench the waste had left behind.

"The safety of our staff was our number one priority," Mr Obregon said. "So along with providing the right safety equipment we also got them all immunised with tetanus and hepatitis shots as the CDC recommended."

Frank Obregon, operations manager for J & J Maintenance
Frank Obregon says he was determined to use local workers
J & J Maintenance's other priority was to ensure that they hired local staff.

"We are a Texas-based company, but we knew that this was a highly visible job that people would be watching, also we wanted to make sure that the money went back into this area," Mr Obregon said.

The business district of New Orleans is currently full of labourers tasked with getting the city centre clean, but the vast majority of them are from other states, or even other countries.

"It's a job no-one wants to do," Mr Obregon said. "But these guys were great, they are all local and have real ties to this stadium and wanted to do their bit to fix it up, rather than see it get knocked down."

Half-hour blocks

Initially the crew concentrated on cleaning the outside of the building so that anyone coming to check the area could see straight away that progress was being made and so the workers would later be able to come outside to sit on their breaks.

A stray cat peers out of a hole in the shutters of the New Orleans Superdome
Two cats and a dog are still living inside
After two days they moved inside, where at first the conditions were so bad that they could only work for 30 minutes at a time.

Now the Superdome is sufficiently clean and safe for the contractors who will be responsible for assessing its structural soundness and fixing the roof to take over.

For the cleaners only one final task remains - trying to catch the two cats and the dog that have been left roaming the building after their owners were made to leave them behind.

Bruce Baker, another of the company's Austin managers, has been leaving out food and water for them since he arrived, but the animals have been too frightened to come close.

"I'd take them home if I could," Bruce said. "But I can't catch them."

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