From: Reuters
Published March 15, 2008 09:27 PM

Two dead as fresh storms spawn tornado near Atlanta

By Matthew Bigg

ATLANTA (Reuters) - A tornado in northwest Georgia killed two people and left others seriously injured on Saturday, one day after a twister battered Atlanta's downtown, officials said.

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

The National Weather Service issued a string of tornado warnings moving east across north Georgia throughout the day. It said there was a risk of "isolated tornadoes" across central Georgia and South Carolina, where local media said storms left thousands without power.

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

"It was a very significant, very serious storm. There's lots of damage," said Weiss.

Some 30 people were taken to hospitals and one was in serious condition after the storm, which packed winds of 130 mph (216 kph), police and Atlanta Mayor Shirley Franklin said.

Damage could be up to $150 million, according to an initial estimate by John Oxendine, state insurance commissioner, who was quoted in local media.

Franklin declared a state of emergency in the city after the storm, which local media said was the first recorded tornado in Atlanta's history.

It powered through as tens of thousands of basketball fans packed area stadiums to watch big games.

Police evacuated the multistory Omni Hotel, which shares a building with the CNN Center, after high winds shattered windows and spilled debris onto the street.

Winds also broke windows and caused damage at CNN Center, the television network's headquarters, CNN said.

The storm struck the most prominent section of downtown Atlanta, which houses attractions including CNN, the Georgia Dome, the Georgia World Congress Center, the Georgia Aquarium and the new World of Coca-Cola.

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Those buildings are clustered around Centennial Olympic Park, built for the 1996 Summer Olympics.

Officials temporarily halted the game between Mississippi State and the University of Alabama at the Georgia Dome after high winds damaged the roof and caused a large monitor hanging above the court to sway ominously.

Thousands of people were attending a National Basketball Association game between the Los Angeles Clippers and the Atlanta Hawks at the Philips Arena, adjacent to the CNN Center complex. But the game was not suspended.

Friday's storm started north of the city and swept through downtown at about 9:45 p.m. (0145 GMT on Saturday) Emergency services were searching a building in a suburb of metropolitan Atlanta that partially collapsed.

Witnesses said they heard a sound like a freight train when the storm hit and saw a funnel-shaped cloud. One woman told a local television station she saw a whirling circle of debris higher than her hotel room on the 12th floor.

Tornadoes are common in parts of the U.S. South, often leaving a trail of death and devastation. But they usually strike rural areas. The deadliest tornado in a U.S. city in recent decades hit Waco, Texas, in May 1953, killing 114.

(Editing by Todd Eastham)

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