Local News

ACC tournament location was site of tornado

Posted March 14, 2009 4:26 p.m. EDT
Updated March 14, 2009 7:50 p.m. EDT

— The Georgia Dome may be abuzz with the Atlantic Coast Conference men’s basketball tournament this weekend, but a year ago it was the site of a tornado.

The 1.6 million square-foot dome was hosting the Southeastern Conference men’s basketball tournament when severe weather hit. The tornado – packing winds of about 130 mph – hit downtown Atlanta on March 14, 2008 and ripped the fabric off of the dome’s roof.

Bryant Poole, a former Triangle resident, was managing the concession stands at the Georgia Dome when the tornado hit. There were up to 15,000 fans there went it happened.

“Everybody noticed there was a change when you looked up in the ceiling. People saw it rise. There was some crashing noises and everybody was trying to figure out what was going on,” Poole said.

For fans watching basketball inside the dome, cell phones were the only link to information about what was happening outside.

“We were trying to keep everyone cool and calm,” attendant Lonnie Merritt said.

As a safety precaution, the Georgia Dome was immediately placed on lock-down. Merritt said keeping people inside helped prevent injuries. The Mississippi State–Alabama game, which was in overtime, was delayed for more than an hour.

“It was really doing damage outside. It knocked out several windows,” Merritt said. “If the people went out at that time, a lot of people would have gotten hurt.”

No one inside of the dome was hurt by more than 20 people in the Atlanta metro area were injured by flying debris.

Despite the external damage, the dome was able to continue functioning and booking events, Poole said.