Atlanta tornado hits homes, businesses

First tornado ever to hit downtown Atlanta leaves 6-mile 200-yards wide path of destruction

BY SIMON GRAF | ATLANTA | March 15, 2008

CLEANING UP -- tree crews remove chunks of a 100-year old tree that fell on Katherine Hudzinski's house in the Atlanta neighborhood of Cabbagetown.

Apartments Collapse -- The former Fulton Bag & Cotton Mill in Atlanta, now loft apartments, was partially destroyed in the tornado.
Credit: DNN Photo

Katherine Hudzinski was watching a movie in her single-story house in the Cabbagetown neighborhood when she heard an unmistakable sound of a hundred-year old tree in her front yard crashing against her 1908 home.

"It felt like an earthquake," Hudzinski said of the violent tornado that uprooted trees in her neighborhood and later was categorized as an EF2 tornado on the Enhanced Fujita scale, with winds up to 135 mph.

The narrow streets of the old Cabbagetown district were filled Saturday afternoon with piles of loose shingles and wood splintered by the tornado. Homeowners rushed to put tarps over roofs in anticipation of a second storm that hit Saturday evening and tree crews worked to clear large tree trunks downed by the storm. A few city streets in the district still were covered with large puddles of muddy water.

The tornado struck Atlanta about 9:40 p.m. on Friday, crashing down first on downtown Atlanta, which was filled with tens of thousands of sports fans who filled the city's Georgia Dome for the Southeastern Conference college basketball tournament and nearby Phillips Arena, home of the NBA team Atlanta Hawks.

It damaged the arenas, blew out windows in nearby hotels and office buildings -- including CNN's world headquarters -- before traveling nearly six miles through Hudzinski's historic neighborhood of Cabbagetown. More than 20 people were injured by the tornado and dozens of homes and businesses were damaged, state officials said.

"I think it's a blessing that nobody anywhere in the whole neighborhood was hurt," said Hudzinski, noting that several homes were damaged by decades-old trees and that the tornado had taken the top off of a nearby landmark -- the former Fulton Bag & Cotton Mill, a 19th century brick building that had been converted into loft apartments.

Saturday morning, white curtains flew outside a few dozen broken mirrored windows of another of the city's landmarks -- the cylindrical-shaped Westin Peachtree Hotel, while even late Saturday Atlanta police had to chase tourists away from other nearby skyscrapers that had been shedding shards of glass from large windows damaged by the tornado high above the street level.

Gov. Sonny Perdue declared the areas affected by the tornado as a disaster area, saying the devastation reached Georgia's center for tourism and business.

Perdue said in a statement that in addition to state funds being made available for the cleanup efforts, he has spoken to FEMA officials and Georgia "will continue to coordinate closely to marshal federal, state and local resources as we recover."

He said that public safety agencies, utility companies and volunteer groups were working closely together.

One such group, the Georgia divisions of The Salvation Army, said it was working to help those affected, providing nearly 1,000 meals to first responders and community residents. It said it would provide roving canteens to help provide food, drink and counseling to communities affected by the storm.

"The Salvation Army ... is continuing in service to the effected communities and individuals as needed." said Maj. Bill Mockabee, The Salvation Army's Georgia State Incident Commander.

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