ATLANTA (AP) - A possible tornado ripped through downtown
Atlanta on Friday night, smashing skyscraper windows, sucking
furniture and luggage out of hotel rooms, crumbling part of an
apartment building and rattling the rafters of two major sports
arenas filled with basketball fans. At least 13 people were hurt.
Streets around the Georgia Dome, the Phillips Arena, the CNN
Center and Centennial Olympic Park were littered with broken glass,
crumbled bricks, insulation and even the occasional office chair.
Billboards collapsed onto parked cars. Stunned fans from the arenas
wandered through the debris in disbelief.
National Weather Service officials said a possible tornado hit
downtown Atlanta, and wind was clocked at up to 60 mph as the storm
moved through the city.
Most of the damage was concentrated in downtown Atlanta, Police
spokesman Ronald Campbell said. He said authorities blocked off
roads around the CNN Center, where heavy debris filled the streets.
A chair from the skyscraper's lobby sat in the middle of the
street, flanked by cars crushed by fallen debris.
Karone Edge, 23, was working out with two friends in a weight
room at the Westin Hotel when he saw debris fly by the window.
After watching the glass shatter in front of him, he said everyone
began to run, and he fell, scraping his leg.
"I thought the building was falling like a terrorist attack,"
said Edge, who was walking around with a bloodied sock.
Buzz Weiss, a spokesman for the Georgia Emergency Management
Agency, said nine people were taken to hospitals, including a
firefighter. Grady Hospital, the city's large public hospital where
eight of the injured were taken, had broken windows but was
operating as usual.
Kendra Gerlach, spokeswoman for Atlanta Medical Center, said the
hospital was treating about five patients in the emergency at
around 11:45 p.m. She said each patients suffered minor injuries
with only cuts, scraps and bruises.
"It's only a few, but I'm expecting to get more soon," she
Atlanta Fire Department Capt. Bill May said the department was
working "multiple incidents" from East Atlanta to downtown. He
said part of a loft apartment building collapsed, but he did not
know if there were any injuries.
May said a vacant building also collapsed, with no apparent
injuries. He said seven to 10 people had been taken to the
Weiss said search and rescue teams from five metro-Atlanta
communities were called in as a precaution. He said the teams are
equipped to handle rescues in collapsed buildings, but added that
he did not yet know whether that kind of rescue would be needed.
Weiss said officials were unsure of the extent of the damage but
said it"seems to be a little more widespread than it initially
appeared." He said it would likely be daylight until a complete
assessment could be made.
On its Web site, CNN said its headquarters building sustained
ceiling damage, allowing water to pour into the atrium, and windows
shattered in the CNN.com newsroom and the company's library. It
also said Centennial Olympic Park was severely damaged.
At the Georgia Dome, where Mississippi State was playing the
University of Alabama in a Southeastern Conference Tournament
basketball game, catwalks swayed and insulation fell from the roof,
sending fans fleeing toward the exits and the teams to their locker
The game was stopped with Mississippi State leading 64-61 with
2:11 left in overtime, but resumed after a delay of about an hour.
Mississippi State won 69-67, but the Georgia-Kentucky game that was
to have followed was postponed. SEC officials were considering a
scenario that would make up the quarterfinal Saturday morning, with
the winner returning later in the day to play in the semifinals.
"I thought it was a tornado or a terrorist attack," said
Mississippi State guard Ben Hansbrough, who was guarding Alabama's
Mykal Riley when a rumbling noise was heard from above.
Both teams stopped and looked toward the Teflon-coated Fiberglas
fabric roof, which is designed to flex slightly during high wind,
but was rippling heavily in the storm, much like waves rolling
toward the shore.
Several fans and at least one reporter on press row said metal
bolts and washers fell from the ceiling, though there were no
immediate reports of injuries. A pipe ripped a hole in the roof.
There were no reports of injuries inside the stadium,
Southeastern Conference associate commissioner Charles Bloom said.
He said the building was deemed structurally sound when the teams
resumed play, even though huge chunks or debris were piled up on
the sidewalks surrounding the 70,000-seat stadium and a breeze
could be felt blowing through the inside. The safety of fans
returning to the dome on Saturday was a concern.
An NBA game between the Atlanta Hawks and Los Angeles Clippers
was going on at next door at Philips Arena, which reported no major
Georgia Power Co. spokeswoman Consuela Monroe said about 10,000
customers had lost power in the Atlanta area.
In East Atlanta, downed trees, debris and power lines were
strewn in the street, which was eerily quiet in the wake of the
pounding hail, sheets of rain, flashes of lightning and growling
Melody and Brad Sorrells were at home with their two children
when the storm hit. The family was in their living room when Melody
Sorrells said she heard the huge pine in their front yard crash
into their house.
"I saw it falling and we ran into the back bedrooms in the
closet," she said, while turning to look at the massive trunk
blocking the front door. "I feel sick."
The family escaped out of the back of the house. Brad Sorrells
said the winds sounded like a roaring train.
"It was a tornado," he said, with arms folded.
According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Association,
the most recent tornado to hit a major city's downtown was on Aug.
12, 2004, in Jacksonville, Fla. Downtown tornadoes have also struck
Fort Worth, Texas; Salt Lake City, Little Rock, Ark.; and
Nashville, Tenn., in the past decade.
Associated Press writer Errin Haines and AP Sports Writer Paul
Newberry contributed to this story.
(Copyright 2008 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)