NEW ORLEANS- The nights bothered Toni Blanco the most, though they also offered a bit of escape. In a police car, she and fellow detective Alecia Wright could shed their police reserve and share a good cry.
"Many times we laid in the car and tears just rolled," Blanco said. "We talked about how this ever came to be and what would become of everyone."
They had lived for days in the Superdome amid the same stench and misery shared by 25,000 others who sought refuge from Hurricane Katrina's battering winds and ensuing flooding. The only difference was they had a badge, some guns, and supposedly some authority.
Being a cop, though, didn't matter much in the arena. They couldn't arrest anyone because there was no place to put them. The few revolvers they had wouldn't be nearly enough to control the crowd if things got really out of hand.
A few days after getting out of the now-empty Superdome, they went back Tuesday to take a second look.
Little had changed since the Superdome was emptied Saturday of the last of its temporary occupants. Personal effects were scattered everywhere and the relatively new field that normally is home to the New Orleans Saints was littered with debris. The place still reeked of human waste.
"The pictures or the television can't show the stench, the smell of urine and water mixed on the floors, the feces," Blanco said. "It was unimaginably horrible."
Blanco, who has been on the force for 24 years, is deputy commander of the New Orleans Police Department's sexual crimes unit. Wright is one of the unit's detectives.
Together they dealt almost daily with the kind of crimes that are difficult to stomach, and comforted victims who had been violated in the most personal of ways.
Nothing, though, prepared them for five days in the dome when they and about four dozen other officers were supposed to keep order amid chaos. On the first night, a man threw himself to his death from the plaza level. There were rumors of sexual assaults, but the police could hardly investigate under such conditions.
It was too wrenching for some officers. They fled through the floodwaters, leaving those remaining stretched even thinner.
"You felt helpless in the sense there was absolutely nothing we could do for the city," Blanco said. "I'd just tell people that we just have to have hope in the Lord."
On Tuesday, a Superdome official insisted there were no plans to tear down the building, saying it would take up to two months to assess the damage. But after their tour, the detectives were in no hurry to return. It was time to put it away once again.
"We say it jokingly now, but I think we're eventually going to need some counseling after this," Blanco said.