Officials Assess Impact of Tornado Damage to Downtown Atlanta

March 18, 2008

Many Atlanta streets were closed and some traffic lights were still out Monday morning because of a tornado that ripped a path of destruction through the city’s core. Commuters to downtown were encouraged to stay home.

Broken glass still littered the ground and police warned pedestrians to watch for debris that could fall from buildings.

At least 27 people were hurt in the tornado that swept through on the night of March 14.

Cleaning up the shattered glass, torn roofs and debris-littered streets of downtown will be a much quicker task than repairing the financial damage caused by the tornado, state officials said Sunday.

Several landmarks, including the Georgia World Congress Center, the Westin Peachtree Plaza and the Equitable Building, were in the six-mile path of the storm, which moved along the Atlanta skyline for about 20 minutes. The city’s main convention center and two major hotels were hobbled as the convention season began.

This weekend alone, the city lost the Atlanta Home Show, a dental convention and the much of the Southeastern Conference basketball tournament.

Dan Graveline, executive director of the Georgia World Congress Center, said on a walking tour with reporters and Gov. Sonny Perdue that it was still too early to quantify the damage, but added that crews were working to assess the wreckage. Graveline said he was hopeful repairs would begin soon, starting with the areas that could be fixed most quickly.

The tornado ripped through the roof of an exhibition hall in one building, leaving light fixtures, awnings, and pieces of the building’s infrastructure dangling and exposed as workers continued to clear the scattered insulation, metal, glass and other debris littering the facility.

Hotel officials said they were concerned about getting the Georgia World Congress Center back into shape as a conference venue.

“All the major hotels downtown rely on the Congress Center as part of the package of bringing conventions to the city,” said Ed Walls, general manager of the Westin Peachtree Plaza Hotel, which was damaged by the tornado.

Walls estimated that about 30 percent of the hotel’s business came from events related to the facility, and that the first four months are among the busiest of the year for conventions in Atlanta.

Mike Sullivan, marketing director of The Omni Hotel at CNN Center, said hotel and convention center officials were expected to meet Monday to discuss their post-tornado options. If the Georgia World Congress Center is unable to host trade shows and meetings, the city’s biggest hotels may have to host large conferences that normally would have been held at the convention center.

“Hotels really are working hard together to try to keep people here,” Sullivan said.

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