Tornado hits downtown Atlanta

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Saturday, March 15, 2008

The streets of downtown Atlanta are littered with debris.
Image: Scott.
Shattered windows at the Omni Hotel.
Roof damage at the CNN Center.
Image: Scott.
Downed Olympic torch sculpture in Centennial Olympic Park

A tornado, spawned from a large storm, has hit the United States city of Atlanta, Georgia, causing extensive damage throughout the city.

The National Weather Service confirmed Saturday morning that it was a tornado that struck the city. After reviewing the aftermath of the storm, they classified it as an EF2 tornado on the Enhanced Fujita scale. Atlanta mayor Shirley Franklin says she is beginning to apply for federal disaster aid.

There have been no confirmed deaths, but the mayor's spokeswoman says there may be dead victims trapped within the ruins of a collapsed loft complex. The Fulton Cotton Mill Lofts are located in the historic Cabbagetown neighborhood, where at least 20 homes were destroyed. "It looks like a bomb went off, it looks like World War III," said Mahsud Olufani, who has an art studio in the neighbourhood. "It's a disaster area."

At least 27 people suffered injuries, mostly cuts and bruises. One person is reported to be in critical condition. Grady Memorial Hospital, where many of the injured were taken, had suffered some window damage but was still operating. Around 50 people have been taken to a local Red Cross shelter for displaced residents.

The tornado struck during the semifinal game of the SEC Basktetball Tournament between Mississippi State and Alabama. Play was stopped with around 2 minutes to go in overtime when heavy wind could be heard outside with rippling of the roof. Damage was done to the roof as debris fell to the floor. No injuries were reported in the Dome. "I thought it was a tornado or a terrorist attack," said Mississippi State guard Ben Hansbrough.

The storm arrived with little forewarning. A tornado warning was issued for the downtown area a few minutes before the storm hit. "Ironically, the guy behind me got a phone call saying there was a tornado warning," said Lisa Lynn, who was attending the game at the Georgia Dome. "And in two seconds, we heard the noise and things started to shake. It was creepy."

The CNN Center in downtown Atlanta was severely damaged, especially in the atrium, where the ravaged ceiling allowed water to pour in. Police closed several streets near the CNN Center because of the debris, which included power lines, billboards, and even office chairs.

The Omni Hotel, which is attached to the CNN Center, also sustained damage, with many of its windows shattered. Visitors at the hotel were evacuated to the exhibition hall at street level. "It was crazy. There was a lot of windows breaking and stuff falling," said Terrence Evans, a valet at the hotel.

At Centennial Olympic Park, located near CNN and the Omni Hotel, two Olympic torch sculptures had fallen over, and a performance pavilion was destroyed. A high-rise dorm at Georgia State University was damaged by the tornado, as evidenced by a large hole in the building's 14th floor. University students were evacuated on buses.

According to Georgia Power, more than 13,000 of their customers are currently without electricity. Crews are working to fix downed power lines, but they said it would be difficult with all the debris.

Another large storm, currently in Mississippi, is heading towards Atlanta, and is forecast to arrive around 3 p.m. National Weather Service meteorologist Mike Leary said Friday's storm could be "nothing to compare with what's coming in tomorrow".

All downtown events scheduled to occur Saturday have been cancelled. This includes the city's Saint Patrick's Day parade. The remaining SEC tournament games are to be played at Georgia Tech's Alexander Memorial Coliseum, located in the undamaged midtown.


Sources

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