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Downtown Atlanta Struck by First Tornado

On March 14, 2008, downtown Atlanta, Georgia, was struck by a tornado for the first time. Many people were in the city’s center that night, including thousands of fans attending one of two basketball games. At the Georgia Dome, Mississippi State battled Alabama in a Southeastern Conference tournament. Nearby, in Philips Arena, the Atlanta Hawks were playing the LA Clippers. Meanwhile, CNN employees, who provide news services around the clock, were busy at CNN Center.

Only a few moments before the tornado struck the Arena, destroying its façade, the Weather Channel’s Stu Ostro had left the NBA game early and was outside walking to his train station. As he reported in his blog, “Nothing was out of the ordinary.” When he reached the underground tracks, he received word via his cell phone that a supercell thunderstorm was approaching downtown. Suddenly the station became hazy, but it soon dissipated. During the train ride he noticed heavy traffic and emergency vehicles, but it was not until the train met an area of debris on the tracks that an announcement was made about the storm. However, there was no mention of a tornado, and it was not until he arrived safely home and turned on his TV that it all began to make sense!

The train station he waited in was next to the Georgia Dome, which was in the direct path of the tornado, so he was underneath the storm when it hit. That was the most likely explanation for the sudden haze in the station: dust from the storm debris, sent into the tunnel by the high winds.

The Associated Press reported that a fan at the Georgia Dome stated, “… the guy behind me got a phone call saying there was a tornado warning, and in two seconds… things started to shake.” The Dome’s fabric roof tore in at least two places, sending insulation down on frightened fans. Another game was scheduled at the Dome later that night, but it was postponed and the tournament was moved to Georgia Tech.

Homes were devastated in an historic Atlanta neighborhood, Cabbagetown, and it was thought that there could be people dead inside an apartment complex. Only minor injuries were reported, which was surprising under the circumstances. CNN Center and the attached Omni Hotel lost a large number of glass windows, and CNN staff reported that a computer had been sucked through one of the broken windows.

On Saturday, assessments of the damage caused by the tornado indicated it was an EF2 on the Enhanced Fujita Scale. The tornado was estimated to be 200 yards wide, and traveled 6 miles.

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