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Witness: Block after block of debris

  • Story Highlights
  • After Atlanta tornado, hotel curtains flapped through shattered windows
  • Streets jammed with fire trucks, ambulances
  • Candy bars for tornado relief? Not hardly
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By Steve Brusk
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ATLANTA, Georgia (CNN) -- I always said if I ever was in a tornado, I'd come up with something better to say than it sounded like a freight train. I lied.


The tornado caused extensive damage to CNN Center and other downtown buildings.

Moments after that telltale roar and frightening crash in the atrium of our building, I walked outside to see if there was any damage. I expected to see some trash cans knocked over, maybe a loose piece of roofing -- never expecting to see block after block of debris smack in the middle of downtown Atlanta.

At the Omni Hotel, curtains flapped in the wind through what was left of shattered windows. The street next to Centennial Olympic Park was littered with a 20-foot section of metal, pieces of insulation and large shards of glass. The first walking wounded were just coming outside, looking to the ambulances that were fighting their way through packed traffic.

A block away, bystanders and the first arriving firefighters were trying to remove a man from a collapsed parking lot booth. Blood was visible on his face as rescue workers moved him away from the debris.

On the next street, a piece of metal had fallen onto a taxicab, injuring two people inside. Next to the famed Tabernacle music hall, an old building collapsed, leaving bricks piled on top of cars in the parking lot. A giant, building-sized billboard we pass every day was ripped away, dropped 100 yards away on top of more cars.

The streets were jammed with fire trucks and still more ambulances as we made out way toward Peachtree Street. There, everyone was looking upward toward one of the city's tallest skyscrapers. Windows on the upper floors of the Westin Hotel were knocked out, the debris lying in the street. One witness described items smashing against the window on the 72nd floor.

Outside, an American flag that had been ripped away was twisted across a pole. The trees were filled with flying debris caught up in the branches as the storm blew through.

Every block brought one more snippet of information. People leaving the basketball games that had brought so many into the very area the storm hit told stories of the wind inside the Dome, with many fans watching the roof. Others on cell phones called out information on damage they were hearing in parts of the city.

One man trying to make a quick buck claimed the candy bars he was selling near Philips Arena were going toward the Atlanta tornado relief fund, until a bystander angrily told him to knock it off.


The strangest part was seeing the damage fresh, before the first rescue crews pulled up. As we circled back toward the badly damaged hotel, police had blocked streets, yellow tape sealed the area, and fire trucks sat across the intersection.

This was the kind of scene we're more used to seeing. Of course, it's usually someone else telling us what the tornado sounded like. And it really was a freight train. E-mail to a friend E-mail to a friend

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