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Tornado slams downtown Atlanta, injuring at least 27
1 dead in separate Georgia storm

ATLANTA - Storms killed one person Saturday in northwest Georgia, less than 24 hours after a tornado with wind up to 130 mph cut a 6-mile path through downtown Atlanta, blowing windows out of skyscrapers and injuring dozens.

More thunderstorms headed across northern Alabama toward the city Saturday. 'We're bracing for another round of whatever mother nature throws at us,' said Lisa Janak of the state emergency management agency.

A tornado touched down Saturday in Polk County on the Alabama line, killing one person, Janak said. She had no other details, and the National Weather Service had not confirmed the second tornado.

At least 27 people were hurt Friday night, though no injuries were believed to be life-threatening.

Crews hauled broken glass and furniture out of streets downtown, where all events scheduled for Saturday were canceled, including the St. Patrick's Day parade.

'It's a mess,' Janak said.

Weather service officials confirmed Saturday that a tornado hit about 9:40 p.m. as a thunderstorm roared through with wind up to 60 mph, about 10 minutes after the weather service issued a tornado warning.

There had been only a 'light risk' in the area Friday for thunderstorms capable of producing strong tornadoes and very large hail, said Trisha Palmer, a weather service meteorologist in Peachtree City. In contrast, the risk was rated as moderate Saturday in north Georgia and upstate South Carolina.

The storm smashed hundreds of skyscraper windows, blew furniture and luggage out of hotel rooms, crumbled part of an apartment building and rattled a packed sports arena.

Streets around the Georgia Dome, Phillips Arena, the CNN Center and Centennial Olympic Park were littered with glass, downed power lines, bricks, insulation and the occasional office chair. Billboards collapsed onto parked cars.

Curious onlookers fanned out across the city taking pictures and surveying the damage in their neighborhoods. Mayor Shirley Franklin urged people to stay indoors unless performing essential tasks like checking on family or property.

'Do not use this as an opportunity for sightseeing,' Franklin said. 'It is not as if something happened last night and everything is over. Our challenge is getting people to understand that this is a serious emergency response effort.'

Georgia Insurance and Safety Fire Commissioner John Oxendine estimated damage from Friday night's storm at $150 million to $200 million, most of it at the Georgia World Congress Center, a state convention facility near the CNN Center and the Georgia Dome. He said the storm broke through the roof, sucking walls, glass and furnishings out like a vacuum.

CNN said its headquarters building suffered ceiling damage that allowed water to pour into the atrium, and windows were shattered in the CNN.com newsroom and the company's library. A water line inside the building broke, turning a staircase into a waterfall.

'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 storm twister hit.

Guests and staff were quickly moved to the exhibit hall and ballroom, and the only injuries were 'some cuts and scrapes and no major issues as far as we know,' hotel spokesman Mike Sullivan said.

The 1,000-room hotel was fully booked, though many guests were out at sporting events at nearby neighboring venues when the storm hit.

Many residents were surprised by the storm, as were tens of thousands of basketball fans at the Southeastern Conference basketball tournament at the Georgia Dome and the NBA matchup between the Atlanta Hawks and Los Angeles Clippers at Philips Arena. The warning was not displayed or announced at either game.

The first sign was rumbling and the rippling of the dome's 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 hourlong delay under a roof with at least two visible tears. Officials said the rest of the tournament 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.'

Calls to the Georgia Dome and Philips Arena were not immediately returned.

Power was knocked out to about 19,000 customers, and about 10,000 remained without power Saturday.

A loft apartment building had severe damage to one corner and appeared to have major roof damage. Property manager Darlys Walker said there was one minor injury. A vacant building also collapsed, with no apparent injuries, Fire Capt. Bill May said.

Grady Memorial Hospital, the city's large public hospital where many of the injured were taken, had broken windows but was operating as usual.

Melody and Brad Sorrells were home in their living room with their two children when the storm hit, and the huge pine in their front yard crashed into their east Atlanta house.

'I saw it falling and we ran into the back bedrooms in the closet,' Melody Sorrels said. 'I feel sick.'

The tornado was the first on record in downtown Atlanta, said Vaughn Smith, another weather service meteorologist. The last tornado to strike inside the city was in 1975, and it hit the governor's mansion north of downtown, he said.

Associated Press writers Dorie Turner, Daniel Yee and John Amis and AP Sports Writer Paul Newberry contributed to this report.