IMAGE: TORNADO DAMAGE
Gavin Averill  /  Getty Images
Tornado damage around Atlanta includes this corner of Luckie Street and Centennial Olympic Park Drive where a billboard fell onto cars.
updated 3/17/2008 5:09:36 PM ET 2008-03-17T21:09:36

Workers struggled to their offices Monday through debris and snarled traffic after a tornado struck downtown, but no long-term effects on the city’s lucrative convention and tourism industry were anticipated.

The twister knocked hundreds of hotel rooms out of commission and caused significant damage to the city’s largest convention venue, the Georgia World Congress Center, said Spurgeon Richardson, president and CEO of the Atlanta Convention & Visitors Bureau.

“We are open for business,” Richardson told reporters.

A volleyball tournament next weekend was still on and expected to bring 38,000 people to Atlanta, though it will likely be scattered around venues throughout the metro area instead of concentrated at the World Congress Center as planned, officials said.

The Omni Hotel lost the use of nearly 500 rooms when the tornado struck Friday night but is still hosting a 600-person U.S. Department of Energy conference this week, said hotel marketing director Mike Sullivan.

At least 27 people were injured but no deaths were reported in the city. Two people were killed in northwest Georgia when a separate storm moved through Saturday.

Statewide, storm damage was estimated at $250 million.

Crews worked Monday to clear debris littering part of the World Congress Center, but the 3.9 million-square-foot center still has enough undamaged space to house most of the upcoming conventions, said Mark Zimmerman, general manager.

Although no future events have been called off, the storm damage did mean the city lost last weekend’s Atlanta Home Show and a dental convention at the congress center.

The shows are required to have their own insurance to hold an event, so the World Congress Center is only responsible for damage to the building and not the property inside, officials said.

Tourist attractions like the Georgia Aquarium and the World of Coca-Cola were not affected, but the damage elsewhere drew visitors’ attention.

“We’re hoping to see a little bit of something we don’t normally see,” said Frank Kennedy, who is in town with his wife, Jean, from Dublin, Ireland, which doesn’t have tornadoes.

Copyright 2008 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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