Two days after the levees broke in New Orleans in August 2005, evacuees arrived at the Astrodome in Houston.
“The biggest mission at that time was getting the cots set up,” says Rick Flanagan, emergency management coordinator for the city of Houston.
In 2005, he was with the Houston Fire Department and assigned deputy area commander for the Astrodome.
“Later that night, the buses started coming in,” Flanagan says. “And not only did they start coming in; they continued coming in.”
The Astrodome hosted about 25,000 Katrina victims, most of whom were bused directly from the Superdome in New Orleans, where conditions had gotten worse every day.
Taking care of so many people was a challenge at the Astrodome, too.
“Some people didn’t have medication, a lot of people left their glasses, some people had no clothes,” Flanagan says. “They had no food to eat, they had no water to drink, they had no shower facilities. So all of those things that were in that particular category, we had to provide those things.”
A few weeks later, evacuees had to leave again, because Hurricane Rita was expected to make landfall near Houston.
But the few weeks that the Astrodome sheltered so many people in need was a defining time for Houston, says then-Harris County Judge Robert Eckels.
“This was probably its finest moment,” he says. “Katrina was probably its finest moment. And it’s got a place in history assured from the way Houston welcomed through that gateway 60,000 people and ultimately maybe a quarter million people into the Houston area after Katrina.”
The Dome’s future continues to be unsure.
The Houston Texans and the Rodeo propose demolishing it and turning the area into green space.
The Urban Land Institute and Harris County Judge Ed Emmett propose turning it into an indoor park.
But where the funding would come from is unclear, and a majority of Houstonians oppose saving what was once called the Eighth Wonder of the World.