Bathed in colorful lights and swathed in banners, including one featuring Ravens quarterback Joe Flacco, the Superdome seems to have been polished to a fine sheen for Sunday's Super Bowl.

But underneath the festive atmosphere linger the ghosts of Katrina.

"It happens to me all the time, sometimes late at night or when I'm here alone," said Doug Thornton, who manages the Superdome. "I'll walk by one place and I'll remember an image of a person. And it will haunt me."

Super Bowl XLVII will bring happy hordes of fans, celebrities and VIPs to the domed stadium that for one misery-filled week in 2005 was the refuge of last resort for some 30,000 residents seeking shelter from Hurricane Katrina. The storm, which struck Aug. 29, blew a hole in the Superdome's roof and wiped out electricity, plumbing and seemingly all manner of civilized life for the evacuees, who sweltered in increasingly fetid conditions.

Seven years later, memories of what Katrina wrought hover over New Orleans, even as hosting the Super Bowl represents the city's continuing recovery. That the game is being played in the Superdome serves as a reminder for many here of the city's devastation and its resilience.

"The Superdome symbolizes New Orleans, period," said Police Sgt. Rhett Charles, a lifelong resident.

Charles, who will work a security detail Sunday at the Superdome, was assigned there during the week of Katrina. As he roams the sparklingly renovated arena, he remembers the desperation of the storm evacuees, trapped in the stifling building that lost power in 90-plus degree weather.

"Even now, I can see people in these seats, trying to sleep, trying to hold their families together, trying to answer their kids' questions," he said.

And Charles can still hear the sound of the roof giving way to the storm.

"That sound of the roof flapping and water coming in," he said. "We were awakened by that sound. We thought the roof was coming off. We went to the 50-yard line and just looked at it, raining inside the dome."

But the lowest point came when Charles heard a group of people screaming and he and other officers ran toward the commotion. A man had thrown himself off a walkway onto the concrete below.

"He just said, 'I can't take it anymore,'" Charles recalled.

The man later died of his injuries — news reports say it was believed that he had learned that his house had been destroyed, prompting him to jump. Another person died of a drug overdose, and four died of natural causes. But many initial reports of rampant rapes and other crimes turned out to have been largely overstated, officials say.

Still, the experience of Katrina, especially for those who took shelter in the Superdome, left a powerful and complicated legacy.

"I'm not much of a sports fan, although we all love the Saints," said Susanna S. Powers, a Tulane University research librarian, referring to the city's pro football team. She wrote a moving essay about spending that week in the Superdome for her blog, angels and people, life in New Orleans. "After having had that experience, I said I'll never go back to it."

And she hasn't returned to the stadium, though she is thrilled that it has been renovated and is playing host to major events.

"I'm completely happy it's having its moment in the sun now," she said. "It was built for that purpose."

Always a party town, New Orleans seems even more giddy as it continues a weeks-long Mardi Gras celebration — with a Super Bowl on top of that. To some, such as Troy Landry, who stars in the History Channel reality show "Swamp People," this is what a strong people do: come back after being knocked down.

"People here bounce back. It's a way of life here, we have so many natural disasters," Landry said. "Katrina hit the city hard, and they've rebuilt. The city is nicer than it ever was."

There are neighborhoods in some of the most devastated areas, such as the Ninth Ward and St. Bernard Parish, where new construction has replaced some of the devastation, even as blighted properties remain.