On May 13, 2006, Glenn Menard sat down to tell his story to Jill Gottesman, his wife. The couple rode out Hurricane Katrina in Menard’s office in the Superdome, where he worked as the facility’s general manager. Following that experience, the couple returned to their house to find it had taken on 10 feet of water.
What follows is an edited transcript of that conversation.
Jill Gottesman: On Sunday, how scared were you?
Glenn Menard: I really wasn’t scared on Sunday. I was probably mad that the procedures hadn’t been followed. The mayor told everybody too soon the Dome would be open, contrary to the plan that we made. Starting Friday, I knew that we would have more people than we should have. I was busy. I went to City Hall on Saturday to hear the mayor and the governor declare the emergency. Then I went home and worked on the house. In the middle of the night, we got that call that the storm had become a (Category) 5. Our friends wanted you to leave and not go to the Dome with me. That would have been the best thing, looking back. We wanted to be together. I certainly wanted you there but didn’t.
So Sunday, I wasn’t scared; I was mad. I went outside the Dome, and I saw people being brought there on buses and getting out of taxicabs. And I knew they should have left town in that same taxicab. People parking all over Poydras Street when they should have left in those cars. And the same thing was happening again that had happened twice before: We weren’t going to evacuate the city; people were going to hang out; they expected to be fed and taken care of at the Dome. I didn’t know what state they would leave in. They were regular people; they were tourists; they looked like student groups who obviously didn’t have any way out of town. So we started getting everybody in.
JG: Remember when it started to rain? And there was a huge, long line in front of the Dome?
GM: That was bad because the city was supposed to cover the Dome. We told them for years what they had to do. And they didn’t do a thing. And then our people panicked. And they made us change the lines and get the poor people out of the rain. The biggest thing about Sunday I remember is Channel 6 news. They criticized us for patting down those people. We had learned a year before. A year before it was all the homeless folk, people with needles and guns and knives. We picked up a lot of contraband and kept it out of the Dome, which was for the safety of the people. And here we were doing it again. The National Guard was checking everybody. And it takes a long time. My God, if we didn’t pat those people down, there would have been weapons in that place.
JG: So you and I were up in a suite. I remember waking up to that giant sound of the hurricane.
GM: We had scheduled regular meetings: 6 p.m., 6 a.m. We gathered in the boardroom. That was where the coordination was supposed to happen — National Guard, NOPD, our staff — to lay out the program. The program included feeding and having water for all those people. On Sunday, we put people in the grandstands and kept them there. We didn’t want them to go all over the building because we knew what happened the last two or three times. We were told they had 300,000 Meals Ready to Eat on-site. We get a call on the radio that we aren’t going to serve the meals hot; we’re going to serve them cold. When we announced this on the PA system, they came out and said, “We can’t do this; if you put water in this thing, it heats up, and it will burn all these people.” They started handing out these MREs without the heating element.
So we get in a meeting and (National Guard) Col. (Doug) Mouton, when he got the word that they weren’t going to heat the meals and were going to pass them out cold, he said, “Who gave that order?” And it was silent. Nobody would admit to making that decision. And right then he said, “We’ve served millions of MREs around the world to soldiers, and they never burned themselves. You give those things out properly.”
The other thing I remember is, we didn’t have 300,000 meals; we only had 41,000 meals.
JG: I remember when the roof peeled off in front of the suite we were in. ... That was when I first thought, “Man, this could get really bad.”
GM: That sound you described — it sounded like a freight train was in the Superdome. We had all the people in one place. The problem is, those ceiling tiles are made of metal. All of the sudden, we figure we’re in trouble. If those ceiling tiles come down, they would have cut anybody’s head or arm off. They were lethal weapons.
The other thing I remember is, all of the sudden, we saw sunlight. This is during the storm. When the roof peeled off, I saw sunlight. And I knew we were in deep (trouble). You look in the seats, and people started moving because they were getting rained on. Then we had to quickly decide to let them go to the other side on the plaza. When you do that, you have to move all your guards so they can’t go up on the ramps and go all over the building.
We put them on the other side, and then the storm went by. ... What happened then is we had to let them go everywhere since the roof was obviously leaking.
JG: How many people were there?
GM: We knew there were 10,000 people Sunday night. It was just regular people, families, grandmas, kids. They brought their stuff, their bedding. And they were just sleeping in those seats. We had a big debate if we should make them stay in the seats. And then of course, when the roof left, everything had to change. We put people in the ramps. But then you can’t secure the building. And that’s why, after the floods came and the people kept pouring in on Tuesday, we lost the building. And we ultimately had to give up the suite level.
JG: So then you and I decided to move our camp down to your office, which was on the plaza level.
GM: Tuesday morning, there was that famous radio show. WWL was on the radio, and that was our link. Tell us about that broadcast because I was still sleeping.
JG: I had my headset listening to WWL. The emergency management chief was on the radio, and he said the water is rising and we don’t know why. They didn’t know if the levees had breached at that point. I woke you up and said, “Glenn, we are out of here.”
GM: Most importantly, you said, “I don’t care what your title is, we are leaving.”
JG: “I’m not going to die in the Superdome.”
GM: I said, “Yep, you’re right.” And we threw a few things in a bag. ... It was hot, the air conditioning quit. We went out to the plaza, and here is this water everywhere. There was a black Suburban, a guy obviously trying to make it, 30 feet from dry land with water to the top of the tires. It was amazing. What do we do now?
JG: Then we decided we were going to watch that water.
GM: We went outside and picked a spot. We even had binoculars. I remember looking at the top step of the arena at the box office. That became my mark. The next morning, the water was another step up.
JG: I remember looking out there and seeing people walking in that water. Families. People with grandmas on planks, doors.
GM: A guy had a piece of plywood with five little kids on it. Floating down Girod Street coming to the Dome.
JG: The people I remember the most were people who were rescued off of roofs. They were bringing them in Hummers. People would get out shirtless, shoeless and just shell-shocked. And you wanted to say, “Here, come in; we’ll give you food and a shower!” But we didn’t have anything. This is almost as bad as where they came from. But at least you’re at the Dome.
GM: We learned Jackson Barracks was flooded, which is where the National Guard was. So the National Guard for the whole city was headquartered on the top of Garage Five. The place looked like Vietnam. They chopped all the poles down to create a landing zone. So some people were getting out of choppers all full of water.
JG: How about the lights at night, just constant lights. We tried to sleep in your office on that airbed. All we heard all night long were choppers and seeing lights and hearing cops or military people screaming and yelling.
GM: “Towering Inferno,” “Apocalypse Now,” “The Poseidon Adventure, “The Great Escape.” The four movies, if you shook them up and put them in a blender, that’s what happened in the Dome for those five days.
JG: How did you feel when we finally got out of there? I left first on Wednesday night at 1 in the morning. Were you relieved when I finally left?
GM: It was fantastic when you got out. We had a chopper that only held eight people. We were promised buses all day Wednesday. They never showed up. The mayor said he had 300 buses coming. In the next meeting, the National Guard said we’ve got airplanes, but we only have eight buses. When we finally heard there might be a chopper, I remember telling them, “A chopper isn’t going to do it; you better get us buses.” It was a tremendous relief to know you were getting out.
JG: My thing was, this is not your job. You do not run shelters. You run a football stadium. That’s when I started getting angry at the whole situation.
GM: I took it to heart. Except at the end, when it was time to begin the great escape, when I got that call saying it’s time to go to the landing zone, but there’s a fire in the Superdome. What else could happen?
JG: It was like every piece of information we got was worse than the last.
GM: I got out to that landing zone. It took so long. When we were up in that chopper, we saw all that water. You were sure the world was going to end.
The amazing thing was they give you these earphones so you can’t hear the noise. We all fell asleep. I finally woke up halfway to Baton Rouge. The rest of us were just sleeping in this noisy, vibrating chopper. The pent-up emotion of all those days and we finally got to sleep.
JG: Remember when you came to tell me our house was underwater? I remember you came and hugged me and were crying and said, “Just please cry with me.” I remember not crying because I knew if I cried then, I would never stop crying until we got out.
GM: I remember you saying, “What is going to happen?” I remember saying, “Don’t know. Obviously, we’ll be fighting insurance companies for years. The only thing we have to worry about is what is happening in the next hour and that we get out of here alive.” That became the focus: Don’t worry about tomorrow, worry about the next hour. I guess I thought there was a chance we weren’t going to get out of there alive.
(Past Superdome officials) predicted for 20 years: Don’t ever put people in the Dome. Because you know what is going to happen? The water’s going to quit, the bathrooms are going to back up, the roof is going to fly off this sucker, and it’s going to be a terrible, terrible place to be. We told the city that it’s going to be a terrible place to be. And it turned out to be a terrible place to be after a hurricane. And they just wouldn’t listen because they’re all smarter than us and we’re stupid building people. And look where it got us.
JG: My final thing I want you to remember is when I was driving you to the airport and listening to NPR and they were talking about that benefit concert that we hadn’t seen and it was Aaron Neville singing “Louisiana 1927.” And we both sang at the top of our lungs and cried hysterically. The first time I cried was that day.
GM: Randy Newman just pegged us. To hear Aaron Neville sing that song after what happened to us. (Singing) “They’re trying to wash us away, they’re trying to wash us away, they’re trying to wash us away. …”
Menard stayed in New Orleans to manage the Superdome for the historic return of the New Orleans Saints the following season. He left in February 2007 to accept a job managing the Texas Motorplex outside Dallas. He was the director of operations for Super Bowl XLV in Arlington, Texas. Today, he is the property supervisor at Les Frame Management in Los Angeles and an adjunct professor at the University of San Francisco. In an emailed response to The Advocate, he declined an invitation for an interview.