SEC tournament temporarily halted by severe weather
ATLANTA - The SEC men's basketball tournament was suspended for one hour and four minutes Friday night after funnel clouds and tornaodo-like weather blew threw downtown Atlanta, causing damage to the Georgia Dome and several other buildings, including the CNN Center and the Georgia World Congress Center.
Alabama and Mississippi State were in overtime of their quarterfinal game when the severe weather came through town. The Bulldogs led 64-61 with 2:11 remaining. Mississippi State eventually won 69-67.
The winds sounded like a locomotive train moving through, and debris could be seen flying through the Atlanta skyline. Traffic came to a near dead stop on the interstate and police and rescue crews could be heard racing throughout downtown.
Portions of the dome suffered structural damage. Officials said they believe the structure can be patched up enough to allow the tournament to continue through the weekend, but won't know the full extent of the damage until construction crews can examine it Saturday morning.
"The people at the Georgia Dome are first class and know what they are doing and are very experienced at this kind of stuff,'' SEC associate commissioner Mark Womack said.
Local weather officials said more severe weather is on the way, but it is expected to be about 10 miles from downtown Atlanta.
Debris could be seen strewn throughout downtown Atlanta, where an Atlanta Hawks game was also being played at the Philips Arena across from the Georgia Dome. The Omni Hotel and Ritz-Carlton in downtown Atlanta were being evacuated due to windows being blown out and structural damage. Florida Power and Light officials said 19,000 people were without power. A water main line broke in the newest addition of the World Congress Center, sending water pouring throughout the building like waterfall.
Atlanta meteorologists have not yet declared it was a tornado that blew through the city, saying tornadoes don't normally go through heavily-populated metropolitan areas. A CNN meteorologist said while it is rare for a tornado to go through an area like Atlanta or New York, it is not impossible.
Furniture from the Omni hotel flew down on portions of the city, knocking out windows and damaging cabs that sat outside the hotel.
Rescue crews could be seen and heard racing through the area, but no fatalities have been reported.
During the delay, players, coaches and officials spent part of the time trying to make contact with family members.
"I tried to call my folks,'' Alabama's Richard Hendrix said. "We all had a lot of family members here. I couldn't get ahold of them, I think everybody was trying to call at the same time. Finally I got a text message from my dad and he said everybody was alright.''
Alabama coach Mark Gottfried said he didn't object to the game being resumed, despite the long delay.
"You have people, that's what they do is examine and make sure the building is okay,'' Gottfried said. "Once they determined that, I didn't have a problem with it. You trust the engineers that they are making the right decision.''