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Fulton Cotton Mill Lofts
Atlanta Tornado
March 14, 2008
Courtesy, NWS
On March 14, 2008 a tornado struck Atlanta tearing a path from Vine City to Cabbagetown, two communities that had histories dating back to the post Civil War era. The tornado was the first to strike the city of Atlanta in almost 60 years. During the storm nine people were injured, mostly from falling rubble and two bodies were found later. One died from falling rubble while the second died from a "storm related" heart attack.


Vine City
Vine City, to the west of the Georgia Dome was once home to Atlanta's wealthy African-American population. Alonzo Hearndon, the barber who built a financial empire in Sweet Auburn built his house here. Martin Luther "Daddy" King, Sr. raised his son Martin, Jr. here while he was preacher of the Ebenezer Baptist Church as did Julian Bond when he became the first African-American in modern times to sit in the Georgia House. Today, Vine City is a poorer neighborhood where residents know when events that attract out-of-town visitors are held at the Dome because of the traffic increase.


The Equitable Building lay directly in the path of the tornado
The Georgia World Congress Center, The Georgia Dome, site of the Southeastern Conference (SEC) Basketball Tournament game between Alabama and Mississippi State, Phillips Arena, site of the regular season NBA game between the Atlanta Hawks and the LA Clippers, once were part of a massive railyard operated by Georgia's State Line, the Western and Atlantic Railroad and others. Centennial Park, built on a blighted area near midtown, also suffered some damage. The tornado then crossed towards Peachtree Street at the northern end of the Fairlie-Poplar district, originally a residential district that became Atlanta's business district in the 1880's.


After crossing the Downtown Connector, (original name of a road built before the Interstates) the tornado entered Cabbagetown, an industrial middle-class section rapidly filling with upscale eateries and higher-end homes and one of the oldest sections of modern Atlanta.

Description of the tornado

At 9:36 pm on March 14, 2008, local television stations and The Weather Channel aired a report of a strong storm in East Cobb County, rapidly moving west and displaying a "hook echo" a warning sign of tornadic activity. Although the storm was reported in East Cobb later analysis show that by 9:36 the storm had passed into Fulton County by this time.

Georgia Dome/GWCC

Collapsed roof at the
Georgia World Congress Center
At 9:38pm the first tornado to strike Atlanta since 1951 landed west of Joseph P. Lowery Drive, just north of Simpson Place. (If you know the area, the exact location is Simpson at Mayson-Turner). Although initial reports had the tornado at EF(Extended Fujita}-2, later National Weather Service research placed the tornado in the EF-1 range. The tornado was 200 feet wide, and moved 1.6 miles in less just under 2 minutes when it crossed U. S. 41 south of Simpson Place.

In the Georgia Dome the SEC tournament quarterfinal was a close game. Alabama's Mykal Riley pushed the game into overtime with a 3-point shot at the buzzer. Had this shot missed, thousands of fans would have been out in the open when the tornado struck. At 9:39 the roof began moving in an unusual manner, with small pieces falling to the court like snow. Scaffolding began to sway as TV crews scrambled to safety. Soon the court was empty and security officers blocked exits because the dome was safer than outside.

The Georgia World Congress Center (GWCC), a couple hundred feet north of the dome, suffered a direct hit from the tornado whose path was widening and wind speed was increasing. Moments after crossing the GWCC, as the tornado passed just north of the CNN Center, destruction increased enough for the National Weather Service to label it an EF-2 in the area of Centennial Park. Here large trees were uprooted and one of the Olympic Torches was knocked off its base. As the storm crossed the park it changed direction - from moving due east to a more southeasterly direction. One tall structure lay almost directly in its way - The Equitable Building.

The Equitable Building

A garage near downtown lies in rubble
Although the Equitable Building has a Peachtree Street address, the building sits between Luckie, Forstyh, and Williams Street in the heart of Atlanta. As the Atlanta tornado swept towards the structure it began losing some steam, dropping from an EF-2 back down to an EF-1 just before striking the 454-foot tall building completed in 1968. Although the 40-year old sustained some heavy window damage, the structure of the building remained intact.

Oakland Cemetery

After crossing the Downtown Connector just south of Edgewood Avenue (little damage to the roadbed, but large trees on either side were take down), it crossed Decatur Street and the railroad in the vicinity of the King Memorial MARTA station, then entered Oakland Cemetery. The storm knocked century oaks out of the ground, toppled monuments, and tore up buildings.


Woman pushes stroller past destruction in Cabbagetown
AP Photo/John Amis
Leaving Oakland Cemetery the storm crossed into the historic residential area of Cabbagetown built around the Fulton Bag and Cotton Mill. Originally a group of simple house, duplexes and cottages populated by rural workers attracted by big-city wages, the area declined following the plant's closing in 1977. A city-funded revitalization effort in the 1990's brought a developer who transformed the Mill into lofts and energized the area. The storm damaged two building heavily, including dropping the roof before it continued on to uproot trees, damage roofs and wreck cars. The tornado passed into Dekalb County before lifting off the ground near the intersection of Braeburn St. and Josephine St.


Kirk Mellish WSB Radio
In short, a violent tornado on the ground in the heart of Atlanta could mean THOUSANDS of deaths and THOUSANDS of injuries and 20-40 BILLION dollars damage.


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