Today’s AJC Deja News comes to you from the Saturday, March 15, 2008, edition of The Atlanta Journal-Constitution.


The tornado that swept through eastern Alabama and central Georgia on March 3 was deadly, destructive and terrifying. Fortunately, it was also rare. EF4 tornadoes account for an average of two percent of the US total each year.

Even more uncommon is the sight of a twister whipping through a major metropolis, but it happened here in Atlanta in 2008.

Bill Sanders, bringing AJC readers up to date the morning after the EF2 tornado ripped a six-mile trail through the heart of downtown, put it this way: “When the storms hit Atlanta Friday night, they hit hard, leaving the Centennial Olympic Park area looking like what one witness described as a ‘war zone.’ ... The worst of the damage and injuries centered on the Georgia Dome, CNN Center and Omni Hotel, but the downtown area was only part of the terrifying story.”

Friday: Basketball fans at the Georgia Dome looked up at damage to the roof in the minutes following the tornado downtown. Play at the men's SEC basketball tournament was stopped. Games were moved the following day to Georgia Tech.

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College hoops fans in town for the SEC Tournament being held at the Georgia Dome found themselves right in the bullseye of the twister.

“For a while Friday night, with one suspected tornado passed and more bad weather on the way, thousands of basketball fans were essentially stuck with no option other than to ride out the storm and hope for the best,” Sanders wrote. “Thousands of basketball fans, some in the Georgia Dome, some roaming the streets, were caught in what WSB-TV called a tornado. At about 9:40 p.m., high winds hit the Dome, ripping off sections of the arena where the SEC men’s basketball tournament was under way. Neighboring hotels and office buildings had windows blown out.”

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By Saturday morning, Atlanta was already tallying up the storm’s price tag.

“Damage from the tornado — the first to hit downtown since such record keeping began in the 1880s — was estimated to exceed $150 million,” reporter Gayle White wrote in the Sunday, March 16, newspaper.

Serious tornado damage could have derailed revitalization efforts downtown. That didn’t happen.

In the decade since the tornado hit, Centennial Olympic Park has continued to flourish. Flanked by the Georgia Aquarium, which opened in late 2005, and the World of Coca-Cola, opened in 2007, the 21-acre public park is the city’s place to play, welcoming visitors to join in the fun.


Michael Wesley (leaning into silver Honda) said his "one goal" on March 15, 2008 was to retrieve his Wii out of the trunk of his destroyed vehicle on Nassau Street in downtown Atlanta on Saturday.

Credit: AJC file

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Credit: AJC file

Five years after Atlanta began cleaning up post-storm, the SkyView Atlanta Ferris wheel opened across from the park in July 2013. During the summer of 2014, the National Center for Civil and Human Rights and the College Football Hall of Fame joined the slew of attractions neighboring Centennial Olympic Park. And while the Georgia Dome was repaired, it’s now been replaced by the $1.6 billion Mercedes-Benz Stadium.

These days, few physical reminders of the 2008 tornado are still with us. The city and its businesses rebuilt and moved on.

Downtown has dodged any further tornadoes for the past 10-plus years, but recent small twisters touched down last March, in suburban south Fulton County, and this February in Clayton County.

"It's a good time for all of us to reflect on what we would do if a tornado was threatening our location," Brad Nitz, meteorologist for Channel 2 Action News, told the AJC. "Make sure you have a way of getting warnings in a timely manner and that you know the safe place to go to in your home."


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