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New twister kills 2 northwest of Atlanta

The National Weather Service confirmed  Saturday that a tornado equipped with 130-mph winds barreled through Atlanta.
Image: cleanup from a possible tornado
People begin the cleanup from a tornado which struck the area late Friday night in the Cabbage Town section of Atlanta on Saturday. Bill Haber / AP
/ Source: news services

A tornado in northwest Georgia killed two people and injured others on Saturday, officials said, one day after a twister slammed into Atlanta's downtown, causing widespread damage.

One person died in Polk County and a second died in Floyd County on Saturday, said Buzz Weiss of the Georgia Emergency Management Agency. Both counties are on Georgia's state line with Alabama.

A new tornado warning was in effect for parts of Atlanta as well as parts of northeast Georgia at 4:05 p.m. EDT as the storms moved quickly east, the National Weather Service said.

"In addition to the threat of a tornado ... very large hail to the size of baseballs can be expected," the service said.

Workers were clearing debris in the heart of Atlanta following Friday night's storm, which damaged landmark buildings, overturned cars and injured 27 people.

The National Weather Service confirmed that it was a tornado, equipped with 130-mph winds, that struck Atlanta about 9:40 p.m., ruling out the possibility that severe winds had caused the devastation.

All downtown events scheduled for Saturday were canceled, including the St. Patrick's Day parade.

"It's a mess," said said Lisa Janak of the state emergency management agency.

Streets around the Georgia Dome, Phillips Arena, the CNN Center and Centennial Olympic Park were littered with broken glass, downed power lines, crumbled bricks, insulation and even the occasional office chair. Billboards collapsed onto parked cars. Stunned fans from the arenas and hotel guests wandered through the debris in disbelief.

'It was creepy'
"It was crazy. There was a lot of windows breaking and stuff falling," said Terrence Evans, a valet who was about to park a car at the Omni Hotel when the apparent twister hit.

There was no announcement of the approaching storm for the 18,000 fans inside the Georgia Dome for the Southeastern Conference basketball tournament. The first sign was a rumbling from above and the rippling of the Fiberglas fabric roof. Catwalks swayed and insulation rained down on players during overtime of the Mississippi State-Alabama game, sending fans fleeing toward the exits and the teams to their locker rooms.

"I thought it was a tornado or a terrorist attack," said Mississippi State guard Ben Hansbrough, whose team won 69-67 after an hour-long delay under a roof with at least two visible tears. A later game between Georgia and Kentucky was postponed. SEC officials said the tournament's remaining games would be played at Georgia Tech.

"Ironically, the guy behind me got a phone call saying there was a tornado warning," fan Lisa Lynn said. "And in two seconds, we heard the noise and things started to shake. It was creepy."

A half-mile away, the sign of the Phillips Arena parking garage was left mangled by the storm, but basketball fans inside the arena noticed little disruption during a game between the Atlanta Hawks and Los Angeles Clippers. Power was knocked out to about 19,000 customers.

Atlanta Fire Department Capt. Bill May said the department was working "multiple incidents" and that part of a loft apartment building collapsed, but he did not know if there were any injuries.

Shelter opened
The loft apartment building, built in an old cotton mill had severe damage to one corner, and appeared to have major roof damage. Fire officials said it "pancaked," and they were uncertain whether all the occupants had escaped.

Darlys Walker, property manager for the lofts, told WSB-TV there was one minor injury.

Taylor Morris, 29, who lives near the lofts, said he and his girlfriend took shelter in the bathroom when the storm passed over in a matter of 15 to 20 seconds.

"The whole house was shaking," he said. "We didn't know what was going on."

He said shingles and a sheet of plywood were ripped from his roof and tossed into a neighbor's tree.

May said at least 27 people were transported to hospitals. Grady Memorial Hospital, the city's large public hospital where many of the injured were taken, had broken windows but was operating as usual.

Kendra Gerlach, spokeswoman for Atlanta Medical Center, said late Friday the hospital was treating about five patients in the emergency department. She said each patient suffered minor injuries with only cuts, scraps and bruises.

May said a vacant building also collapsed, with no apparent injuries. Weiss said state officials and the American Red Cross were setting up a shelter at a senior center to house more than 100 people displaced by the storm.

More bad weather
Officials were unsure of the extent of the damage, he said, but said it "seems to be a little more widespread than it initially appeared." The Fulton County Emergency Management Agency will comb downtown at sunrise to survey damage, Weiss said.

"One thing that concerns is greatly is we have more bad weather moving in," he said.

All downtown events scheduled for Saturday were canceled, including a St. Patrick's Day parade, WXIA-TV reported.

On its Web site, CNN said its headquarters building sustained ceiling damage, allowing water to pour into the atrium, and windows shattered in the newsroom and the company's library.

In East Atlanta, downed trees, debris and power lines were strewn in the street, which was eerily quiet in the wake of the pounding hail, sheets of rain, flashes of lightning and growling thunder.

Melody and Brad Sorrells were at home with their two children when the storm hit. The family was in their living room when Melody Sorrells said she heard the huge pine in their front yard crash into their house.

"I saw it falling and we ran into the back bedrooms in the closet," she said, while turning to look at the trunk blocking the front door. "I feel sick."

The family escaped out of the back of the house. Brad Sorrells said the winds sounded like a roaring train.

"It was a tornado," he said, with arms folded.

According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Association, the most recent tornado to hit a major city's downtown was on Aug. 12, 2004, in Jacksonville, Fla. Downtown tornadoes have also struck Fort Worth, Texas; Salt Lake City, Little Rock, Ark.; and Nashville, Tenn., in the past decade.

If confirmed, the tornado would be the first in recorded history to hit downtown Atlanta, said Smith, the meteorologist. The last tornado to strike inside the city was in 1975, and it hit the governor's mansion north of downtown, he said.