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MICHELE NORRIS, host:

From NPR News this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Michele Norris.

MELISSA BLOCK, host:

And I'm Melissa Block.

The Lousianna Superdome tonight is full - full of cheering football fans. The New Orleans Saints are playing their first home game since hurricane Katrina when levee breaks flooded the city last year. The Superdome was badly damaged by Katrina's winds and it became a foul way station for tens of thousands of evacuees.

NPR's Rachel Martin reports.

RACHEL MARTIN: The streets of New Orleans are lined with black and gold Saints banners. Cars cruised the streets earlier today with Saints flags in the windows. Near the Superdome, masses of people in Saints jerseys made their way to the stadium. And inside the dome parking lots, tailgaters had been getting in the spirit of things for hours.

(Soundbite of crowd cheering)

MARTIN: Casey Ramirez and her friends are cooking up what they call dirty bird jambalaya out of the back of their pickup.

Ms. CASEY RAMIREZ (Saint's fan): The Falcons are the dirty birds. We cook the dirty birds, just like the Saints are going to cook them in the dome.

MARTIN: The Saints had to play all their home games in other states last season because the Superdome was so badly damaged by Katrina. Despite initial criticism, Governor Kathleen Blanco argued that repairing the dome was key to the city's economic recovery and its emotional rebirth. Today in a ceremony in the Superdome, the governor thanked all the people who worked tirelessly to bring the dome back in record time.

Governor KATHLEEN BLANCO (Louisiana): We are determined that Louisiana will stand stronger than ever before, and I offer my deepest gratitude to all of you. Thank you for helping to prove to ourselves that nothing will keep us down.

MARTIN: The reopening of the Superdome resonates with Sal Palmasono(ph) on several levels. He's a native of Saint Bernard Parish. It was hit hard by the storm and he and all his extended family lost their homes. But as a project superintendent on the dome rebuilding project and a life long Saints fan, he's been able to make a very personal contribution to this day.

Mr. SAL PALMASONO: For me, I think it is a major accomplishment not only for myself but the people of the state of Louisiana, people of New Orleans, and I'm happy for the fans because I know what that feels like and I'm excited for them to come here tonight for the first time and look at the dome.

MARTIN: The dome has been upgraded to the tune of about $144 million dollars so far, most of that coming from the federal government. New turf, new seats, there's better lighting and new high tech video screens that circle the inside. It's a far cry from the images of squalor and desperation that became synonymous with the local and federal response to hurricane Katrina. Many residents, like Corey Saval(ph), say it's important to remember how far New Orleans still has to go, but today's game is a welcome distraction.

Mr. CORY SAVAL: It takes your mind off of everything else going on around you.

MARTIN: Saval and his wife, Crystal, are dressed head to toe in black and gold and are long time season ticket holders. Saval says the reopening and the Saints homecoming are genuine reasons for the city to celebrate.

Mr. SAVAL: Maybe one day to let loose a little bit and forget about everything, you know. Just being here is really good, but I think a win would be a bonus.

MARTIN: And that could happen. The Saints have a new coach and a new quarterback and they're 2-0 going into tonight's game.

Rachel Martin, NPR News, New Orleans.

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