/ 15 March 2008

Downtown Atlanta struck by tornado

A tornado hit downtown Atlanta on Friday night, causing several injuries and damaging buildings, including the roof of the Georgia Dome where thousands were watching a college basketball game, police and witnesses said.

Nine people were taken to hospitals, one in serious condition, as a result of the heavy storm, police said.

Police evacuated the multistorey Omni hotel, which shares a building with the CNN Centre, after high winds smashed many windows and scattered debris including furniture into the street below.

Winds also broke some windows at the CNN Centre and damaged part of the library, the television network said.

Officials temporarily halted the game between Mississippi State and the University of Alabama at the nearby Georgia Dome as high winds damaged the roof, sparking alarm and causing a large monitor hanging high above the court to sway ominously. A later game in the same stadium was postponed.

The heavy rain and lightning storm started north of the city and swept through downtown at about 9.45pm local time, downing trees and overturning cars, witnesses said.

About 19 000 homes lost power from the storm, Georgia Power officials said.

Some witnesses said they heard a sound like a freight train when the storm hit and saw a funnel-shaped cloud.

”I am very certain that it was a tornado from what I have seen,” one female hotel resident told a local television station. She described watching a whirling circle of debris higher than her 12th-storey hotel room.

Tornadoes occur frequently in parts of the United States South but serious damage from them is rare in major US cities.

Thousands of spectators were also attending a National Basketball Association game between the Los Angeles Clippers and Atlanta Hawks at the Philips Arena, adjacent to the CNN Centre complex. The game ended at about 10pm local time.

Police said other buildings in downtown Atlanta were also damaged. By 5am GMT on Saturday, there was still scattered thunder over the city. — Reuters