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Daylight Reveals Storm's Fury

9:16 AM, Mar 15, 2008   |    comments
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Saturday’s sunrise in Atlanta shed the first light on a Downtown area that was heavily damaged after a severe thunderstorm, possibly a tornado, ripped through the area Friday night. The storm has forced many weekend events to be rescheduled or cancelled. Atlanta's St. Patrick’s Day Parade, originally scheduled for Saturday has been canceled. More than fifty people are reportedly staying at a Red Cross Shelter at the Helene Mills Recreation Center that has been established. Those needing assistance can call the Red Cross help-line at 1-866-RC-HELPS. The storm plowed through Atlanta at 9:30 Friday night, extensively damaging an area encompassing Ralph McGill to Edgewood; Spring through Piedmont and Centennial Olympic Parkway to Moreland. According to the City of Atlanta, about 200 firefighters and 150 police officers are working with Public Works and Parks crews to clear debris from those areas hit hard by the storm. Many of the firefighters are focusing their efforts on the Cotton Mill Lofts. The condo building suffered extensive damage and partial collapse during the storm. Search and rescue workers from DeKalb, Cobb, Clayton and Gwinnett are aiding in the efforts. A possible tornado ripped two holes in the side of the Georgia Dome in downtown Atlanta during the Southeastern Conference tournament Friday night, halting the Alabama-Mississippi State and sending fans fleeing for the exits. The teams were sent to the locker room while those who remained at their seats looked anxiously toward the roof. The game was stopped with Mississippi State leading 64-61 with 2:11 left in overtime. According to 11Alive's Fred Kalil, there was a roaring sound heard from inside the 16-year-old structure when the storm struck. 11Alive's Catherine Kim, reporting from outside the Georgia Dome, described what she called a "combat zone" in terms of the amount of damage. She has said that there are unconfirmed reports of many injuries inside the Georgia Dome. Kim, walking past the CNN Center in downtown Atlanta, noted significant debris along Centennial Olympic Park Drive and Marietta Street. Many windows in the CNN Center and Omni Hotel in downtown Atlanta were blown out. Atlanta Fire officials said that at least seven to ten people were transported to local hospitals from that location. 11Alive producer Tracey Carmony said that much of the damage at the Georgia Dome is near Gate C, including shattered windows and doors between the Dome and the Georgia World Congress Center. SEC officials said that the remaining games of the tournament would take place at Alexander Memorial Coliseum on Georgia Tech's campus, beginning Saturday afternoon. Georgia World Congress Center officials said the Atlanta Home Show, scheduled for this weekend there, would be canceled, due to the damage from Friday night's storms. National Weather Service officials said they would be out in downtown Atlanta beginning at 7 a.m., to survey damage. Officials said their survey would determine whether or not there was a tornado that caused the damage in downtown Atlanta. In the meantime, Mayor Shirley Franklin has urged people to stay away from downtown Atlanta. "I strongly urge everyone to stay away from the downtown area. Please let emergency services personnel do their job," Mayor Franklin said early Saturday morning. "We have been very fortunate not to have a fatality at this point, and it is imperative that people stay out of the area and let public safety personnel evacuate people and make the area safe." Atlanta officials said at least eight people were transported from CNN Center to Grady Memorial Hospital, and at least one other person to Atlanta Medical Center. At least one person was reported in critical condition. EMS workers were also called to the Georgia Pacific building in downtown Atlanta with reports of flying glass and an unknown number of injuries there. Trees and debris has been reported down across much of downtown Atlanta. Georgia State University police are reporting debris down on their campus. Atlanta police said that a structure may have collapsed on Edgewood Avenue near Butler. There are other reports of damage to buildings in and just east of downtown Atlanta. Police said that windows have been blown out in the Ritz Carlton Hotel in downtown Atlanta as well. A vacant building to the north of CNN Center has at least partially collapsed, according to Atlanta fire officials. A National Weather Service-trained spotter and police officer contacted 11Alive News, and said from his 10th floor room in the Atlanta Hilton, he saw a funnel cloud pass over the downtown area. He said his room faces to the west, and said the funnel cloud was just to the south by "a couple of blocks," and moving to the southeast. He said it was well-illuminated by the downtown lights, and accompanied by a "large amount of debris, flying in a circular pattern" above the level of his room. Officials said that plenty of damage has been noted downtown and in nearby areas, and "a number of injuries." According to officials at Grady Memorial Hospital, some windows were blown out, and they were working off of emergency power at 11:30 p.m. 11Alive's Jerry Carnes said a portion of the roof at the Cotton Mill condominiums on Boulevard was ripped off of the building in Friday's storm. There is no word on how many injuries occurred there, although, according to Carnes, ambulances have been seen leaving the area. There are reports of at least one firefighter there who has a broken ankle suffered while trying to help residents there. According to the City of Atlanta, The King Memorial Transit Station has been closed until MARTA officials can assess any structural damage. Bus service will operate as normal. Georgia Power reported about 13,000 customers without power, mostly in the city of Atlanta, along MLK Drive and through the center of the city. There are about 80 Georgia Power crews working to restore power. Those crews were reportedly having difficulty accessing some downed power lines due to heavy debris. City of Atlanta officials said there has been extensive damage through the downtown area, and at least nine injuries, one of them critically. They said that no fatalities have been reported from the storm. Officials at Hartsfield-Jackson Airport said that no damage was reported at the world's busiest airport, and that the worst of the storms stayed to the north of that area.

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