MADELEINE BRAND, host:
A year ago the New Orleans Superdome was a scene of horror for thousands of people trapped there by storm waters. Now the Superdome is nearly completely repaired. It's set to reopen next month.
NPR's Audie Cornish returned to the Superdome with a man who took shelter there during the flooding, and here's her report.
AUDIE CORNISH reporting:
Samuel Thompson isn't from New Orleans, but he has a lot of friends here. So last summer he decided to come for a month or two to practice and prepare for an international violin competition.
The Sunday before Hurricane Katrina made landfall, the owner of the hostel where Thompson was staying demanded that everyone evacuate.
Mr. SAMUEL THOMPSON (Violinist): I walked out of the hostel and down the street and saw the front page of a newspaper, and on the front page there was a satellite picture of this thing in the Gulf of Mexico and I looked at it and thought, this is it.
CORNISH: Thompson wrapped the strap of his ragged black violin case over his shoulder and dragged his two suitcases behind him a mile and a half to the Superdome.
Thompson settled in to Section 113 with a group of international students from the hostel. In the coming hours, the power would go out and the building would be hot and crowded. But on that first night, when the storm was baring down, one of his friends turned to him and asked him to play.
(Soundbite of violin music)
CORNISH: Thompson says he was numb to the tense scenes around him, and over the rumble of people he tried to concentrate on the Adagio from Bach's Sonata #1 in G Minor.
Mr. THOMPSON: I wasn't paying attention to what was going on around me. I was like, okay, I'm just going to play the violin.
I stopped. I remember somebody clapping and I nodded a little bit, like, okay, I'll play some more.
(Soundbite of violin music)
CORNISH: It would be four long days for Thompson and the group of travelers from Australia and Great Britain he'd hunkered down with. Embassy officials from those countries were working frantically to get their people out, and by Wednesday, foreign nationals were being shuttled out of the building, and hours later, out of New Orleans.
Thompson joined them, but only because one of the women in the group insisted.
Mr. THOMPSON: The reality is that if I had stayed here I would have been alone, and who knows what would have happened.
CORNISH: When Thompson left with those tourists, he abandoned a scene devolving into well-chronicled madness. Wild rumors spread from the crowd right on up to law enforcement of shooting, suicide and rape.
Thompson says all of this is in his mind when he's playing.
Mr. THOMPSON: A lot of those feelings have actually been beneficial to learning those pieces because there's something for me emotionally that can be attached to them. Those are there and they're now in those pieces and that's something as a musician that I had not been able to do before.
CORNISH: Thompson never made it to the competition, and at age 35 he's no longer eligible for that prize. He continues his search for stable work and plans to spend the next year auditioning at orchestras around the country.
And he still keeps in touch with his international friends from Section 113.
Audie Cornish, NPR News. New Orleans.