2 Dead In Severe Georgia Storm

The Philips Arena sign was damaged after a severe storm ripped through downtown Atlanta on Friday night, injuring several people and damaging skyscrapers, hotels and two major sports arenas that were filled with thousands of pro and college basketball fans. (AP Photo/David Tulis - Atlanta Journal Constitution) *** GWINNETT DAILY POST OUT, MARIETTA DAILY JOURNAL OUT. *** AP/D. Tulis, Atl. Jrnl-Constitution

Officials in Polk County have confirmed at least two deaths resulting from Saturday's severe weather.

CBS Affiliate WGCL reports that a person died on Bon Loop Road, but they could not confirm whether the person died in a house. The second fatality was reported in Floyd County.

Also in Polk County, railroad traffic has been stopped due to trees that have been blown down onto the tracks.

The severe weather system stretching through Alabama and into Georgia follows Friday tornado that caught Atlanta residents by surprise.

That 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.

National Weather Service meteorologist Barry Gooden said the tornado that swept through downtown Atlanta on Friday night produced winds up to 110 miles an hour - making it a strength EF1 on the Enhanced Fujita scale.

It then grew into an EF2 tornado. He said the weather service describes such a tornado as having winds up to 135 miles an hour, ultimately carving a six-mile long path.

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 the occasional office chair. Billboards collapsed onto parked cars.

CNN says its headquarters building sustained 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 twister hit.

Although a tornado warning was issued, 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 rumbling and the rippling of the 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."

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

Power was knocked out to about 19,000 customers.

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.

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

"It's a mess," Janak said.

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.

Taylor Morris, 29, who lives near the lofts, said he and his girlfriend took shelter in the bathroom.

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

Fire Capt. Bill May said a vacant building also collapsed, with no apparent injuries.

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

In East Atlanta, downed trees, debris and power lines were strewn in the streets.

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 crash into their house.

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

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Association said the last 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.

The tornado is the first on record in 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.
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