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CNN BREAKING NEWS

Breaking News: Possible Tornado Sweeps Through Atlanta

Aired March 14, 2008 - 00:00   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.


ERICA HILL, CNN ANCHOR: And we're going to continue to cover this story for you. Again, breaking news. An apparent tornado hitting downtown Atlanta, Georgia, right near where CNN is. That's outside of CNN Center. Stay with us. Our coverage continues right here.
ASIEH NAMDAR, CNN ANCHOR: Hello, everyone. I'm Asieh Namdar at CNN Center in Atlanta. We are following breaking news. A major storm in Atlanta, Georgia. The busy downtown area had been hit with an apparent tornado. Centennial Olympic Park, the Georgia Dome and CNN Center are in this area, and those of us who work at CNN felt this storm a little over two hours ago. There is lots of structural damage to CNN with a number of windows blown out. A college basketball tournament at the nearby sports arena with these packed spectators was disrupted and folks had to be evacuated.

Amy Engel, a senior producer at CNN.com is in downtown Atlanta. Amy, what can you tell you.

AMY ENGEL, CNN PRODUCER: I'm down in what they call Cabbagetown area of Atlanta, and at the Fulton Cotton Mill Apartment Condos, apparently -- well, I'm looking right now, a roof torn off one of their buildings. It came through here. I talked to people. They saw the roof flying by the window, and at the moment, although it's fortunate that the building was being renovated so not many people lived there. They're doing a search and rescue to try to discover if there's anybody still in the building.

NAMDAR: Amy, where were you when this storm actually came through?

ENGEL: I actually live right down the street. So I was in my house. And I didn't hear the freight train, like you hear all the time. But I did lose power. And it was a little scary.

NAMDAR: I can tell you, those of us sitting at the CNN International Newsroom, we all kind of looked at each other in sort of awe, not knowing what to do, sort of debating whether we need to run out. The force of the wind, the sound of it even, had a lot of us shaken.

And then we went to CNN.com where you actually work, and a number of windows are blown out and the damage there is actually more severe. Tell me exactly what you see around where you're standing. Do people seem OK? Do they seem shaken? Are they running everywhere?

ENGEL: There's no running. People are shaken. A lot of people are on their cell phones right now. A lot of people escaped with their pets, so they're out here with their pets. The Red Cross, I'm being told, is coming out here to set up a headquarters for these people who have now -- they're not allowed back into the building and probably won't be for sometime. And as I said, it's still an ongoing situation as they search the rest of the buildings. I talked to one man who was actually stuck in an elevator for an hour before they were able to get him out.

NAMDAR: Oh --

ENGEL: And other people, as I said, looked out the window and their first indication of the tornado was seeing the roof go by.

NAMDAR: Wow. Amy, thank you so much.

Let's go to Don Lemon right outside the CNN Center here. Don, what can you tell us?

DON LEMON, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Hey, Asieh. You were in the building when it happened. I'm not sure I haven't been speaking to you all night, so you heard that rumble, that noise that everyone just talked about?

(CROSSTALK)

NAMDAR: Yes, we all heard it and I'm telling you, it was loud.

LEMON: Yes, I bet noise that everyone says about freight train. I was running up from the parking lot, the underground parking lot, and I was running by folks and I said, what did you hear? And they said, it sounded like a freight train. So, I mean, it's right textbook.

Look, this is downtown Atlanta where we go to work every day, Asieh. Look at this car. I mean, this car -- this isn't where you park here. People don't park here. So the person who was in this car obviously had some sort of trouble, had to stop and leave their car here, because this is not a parking zone.

Look at all of this. See this chair right here. That obviously goes into someone's room and chances are, if you pan up, Michael, it came from one of these rooms upstairs with the windows blown out -- either a guestroom or conference room and the curtain is now hanging out. We've even seen suitcases, Asieh, on the street. We've seen traffic lights.

When I got here, I saw a man bloodied because he had fallen into the glass and was struggling. I saw a couple of people being taken out on stretchers. One of them had an oxygen mask over them. Guests were running down -- if you look into here, guests were running downstairs from their rooms because they were being told they needed to get into the exhibit hall where there are no windows, because they weren't sure about the stability of the roof. Now, that's what guests are telling me. Several of them told me.

So right now, inside of this, these people are looking at us on television trying to figure out what's going on. There is a huge conference in town. A couple of events with thousands of people here. And you know, Asieh, the hotel rooms are full. So the people who don't have hotel rooms here, where are they going to go? NAMDAR: That was my next question.

(CROSSTALK)

LEMON: They are just sitting here.

NAMDAR: Where are they going to go?

LEMON: Yes. Some of the people, the younger people who are in town for the games, maybe some of the college students you see there -- look right here, they're just sort of watching all the media out front. They're going to hang out obviously and have a good time for a little while. But then that's going to get old because it's going to get colder and damper outside, and they're not going to have a place to go.

The older people are the people who were in their rooms. Take a look up here. Can you pan back up? I want to show you someone in a room up there. Not sure if it's a guest. Do you see that person in the room? Right there. There's a person in the room right there waving. Very dangerous spot.

NAMDAR: Oh, can you shout for them to go back inside?

LEMON: Yes. Yes. Let's probably -- let's turn the light off of them because we don't want off of them. We don't want them coming out to the window. So, anyway, that's a person up there doing that. Probably should not be in that room. But who knows where these people are going to go?

As I said, the older people, some of them, you know, needed medical attention, obviously not very mobile. I saw them walking around or sitting on the steps in their bathrobes. So there you go. Look here -- that traffic light I was telling you about, Asieh, and the suitcase -- check this out. This is someone's suitcase. Not going to dare open it to see if their stuff is inside. That's the traffic light that blew half a block away.

NAMDAR: Oh, my gosh.

LEMON: And then all of this, you see all this metal, this all flew off of the building, all flew flying downtown. I showed this to Erica Hill earlier, CNN domestic. Part of the traffic light from downtown, the arrow signal.

So just to tell you about my journey here, you know where I live. You know the area, not very far from CNN. Usually you can get in about 10, 15 minutes, maybe 20 minutes if it's back up with traffic. It took me much longer to get here than that. And then, when I got down here, I had to drive through this stuff, through all of this debris and glass in order to find a parking spot that was at least a mile from the building in an underground garage and run up here.

And then as I'm running, people are running, too. And people are being treated and being injured. And I'm thinking -- I was literally running up the escalators wondering, am I dreaming? Am I crazy? This is downtown Atlanta on a Friday night.

(CROSSTALK)

NAMDAR: It's scary, Don, I can tell you.

LEMON: It's unbelievable.

NAMDAR: In the 18 years I've lived in this town, I've never seen anything like this in downtown Atlanta. Don't go away.

LEMON: Yes.

NAMDAR: We want to go now to Cal Perry who is right outside the Georgia Dome where this tournament, basketball tournament was going on. What can you tell us, Cal?

CAL PERRY, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, up there, I can tell you that the entire building shook back and forth. People -- the game stopped. People were obviously very nervous. Some people went sort of under the overhang where they felt more protected. And there was some confusion with authorities as to whether or not they were going to carry on with the tournament and play the second game, which, of course, is sort of the bigger game here in Atlanta, the Georgia University game. They decided to cancel that game and offered to keep people inside the dome where they felt safest.

I'm also right outside the Congress Center, which in Atlanta hosts many conventions, where the damage is really extensive. There are giant gaping holes in the wall where when you stand inside the building, you can literally look right outside and see the downtown center of Atlanta. There's glass, as we heard, littering the streets, and the streets are really filled with people trying to get home. But there's a bit of a log jam outside the Georgia Dome as thousands of people are now trying to make their way home on public transportation or get home any way they can.

Another major problem is the power. The escalators are out inside the building, and as are the elevators. So really, scenes here of chaos and some extensive damage outside here at the Congress Center -- Asieh.

NAMDAR: Cal, when the storm actually hit, this apparent tornado, was the game still going on, or was it disrupted? Did they bring it to a halt?

PERRY: The game was still going on, and it actually continued. It was actually in overtime. It was a very exciting game, a basketball game here in Atlanta. The game continued on. But apparently the entire building shook and some debris started falling from the ceiling. Now, at some point, they did decide to stop play because people were already moving outside the actual dome and sort of under cover.

You can hear obviously police sirens behind me. They're trying to move people off the streets. It seems unclear if there's another storm still coming through. Plus, people moved out of the dome and sort of into the overhead. That's when they sort of stopped the game. They then picked it up later and finished it, and then canceled the second game out there.

NAMDAR: OK. Thank you very much, Cal Perry.

Now, let's go to Veronica De La Cruz. She's standing outside Grady Hospital just a few miles down from CNN Center. Veronica, what can you tell us?

VERONICA DE LA CRUZ, CNN INTERNET CORRESPONDENT: Well, what I can tell you is I just got off the phone with Denise Simpson. She is the spokesperson for Grady Hospital. What we know at this point is that eight people have been injured as a result of this possible tornado. What we do know is the majority of them have only minor injuries.

Seven people have been brought into Grady. One of them at Atlanta Medical Center is one person with critical, life-threatening injuries, doesn't know too much more as to whether or not if it's male or female. We're still working the numbers. We're still assessing all the injuries.

I should know the majority of the people who have come in today, some of the walking wounded, and some of them with minor cuts, abrasions. And she said that EMS has been bogged down, bogged down with a lot of phone calls, a lot of people calling in.

But once again, the majority of the people suffering minor cuts, abrasions. She said the EMS was in the area, the Georgia Pacific company, I believe that's the paper company. I believe it's on Peachtree Road. And, you know, outside of the hospital, there are people trickling into the emergency room.

I think in the past 15 minutes, I've seen at least four ambulances come in. But what we do know at this point is the majority of the people suffering mostly superficial injuries, mostly cuts and abrasions due to all of that flying glass and debris.

NAMDAR: So, Veronica, from what you know based at this point, there are no reports of fatalities?

DE LA CRUZ: No, no fatalities reported at this time. Like I said, eight people total injured and the majority of them walking wounded. So again, they're still assessing damage, injuries. They know the damage inside the hospital. Two doors blew down and as a result of that, two people were injured.

But, again, a lot of these being superficial injuries. So we're still working the numbers here, and I'm going to go ahead and stay on top of this and report back to you and give you another update.

NAMDAR: OK, thank you very much. Veronica De La Cruz outside Grady Hospital in downtown Atlanta.

Again, let us recap for you what we know at this point. About 9:45 Eastern time in Atlanta, Georgia, a major storm hit the downtown area believed to be a tornado. Now, downtown is home to the Centennial Olympic Park, that most people know because of the Olympics, the Georgia Dome, CNN Center.

Those of us who work at CNN Center actually felt the storm. There are some injuries, and there are lots of structural damage. But at this point, no fatalities. Let's go back to Don Lemon outside the CNN Center -- Don.

LEMON: Hey, how are you? I didn't realize you're going to come back to me that quickly. That's OK. But listen, I understand you guys are being told -- were you in the hotel at the time?

JOEY SPALDING, OMNI HOTEL GUEST: No, we were at the Georgia Dome, was getting ready to watch the Kentucky game. Finishing up the Mississippi State game and Alabama.

LEMON: What happened?

SPALDING: It sounded like a big train. The windows started -- not the windows, but the flap on the top started going up and down, and the scoreboard started swaying back and forth. And there was a big panel over our right shoulder that blew out. Insulation started flying throughout the building. And it was -- we had no warning. Nobody said there was any type of weather or anything going on at that, so we didn't know, even know what the heck was going on.

LEMON: So you stayed inside?

SPALDING: Yes, we stayed inside.

LEMON: What's your name? I'm sorry.

SPALDING: Joey Spalding (ph)

LEMON: Joey Spalding. You guys now -- are you staying in the hotel?

SPALDING: We're staying in the Omni in the north tower here.

LEMON: What did they tell you?

SPALDING: They haven't told us anything yet. We can't get close enough to tell us anything. They tell us to stay back.

LEMON: So you can't even get in the hotel you're staying in?

SPALDING: No, all of our clothes and most of our money is up there.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Our money and everything.

LEMON: What are you going to do?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I don't have a purse either. My license, everything.

LEMON: And so, you're here. And can you believe this in a major American city?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: It looks like something in a movie. SPALDING: Like a war zone.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Yes, a movie, you know. You know, the movie.

NAMDAR: Hey, Don?

LEMON: I mean, I'm sitting here transfixed by them because, you know, they're saying it all. It's like a movie, Asieh. I mean, I literally, I cannot believe it.

I've been called to -- in the middle of, you know, the night on a Friday night when I'm off, to go to Kansas or to Kentucky or to Oklahoma or somewhere, some area where you see tornadoes a lot or you see this sort of weather. I would not have been surprised.

But when I got a call saying to come to downtown Atlanta, that it was a possible tornado at the CNN Center, I thought I was dreaming. I couldn't believe it. Especially as I told you, as I'm running here.

So this family who came here all the way from Kentucky represent thousands and thousands of people who are in this exact position. They don't know what they're going to do. And earlier, these people -- some of the people who were in the hotel, if you can go back, Mike, show the hotel over here. Earlier, some of the people who were in the hotel, they had to be pushed back because they thought a second wave was going to come through.

It started raining again. So they moved everyone from the windows here and made every -- stuffed everyone into the exhibit hall until the second wave, if you will, came through -- the second rain. And as I was doing that, as they were doing that, I saw people in bathrobes.

I saw people on stretchers. I saw people who had oxygen masks over their face. I saw bloodied people. I saw women who were in the lobby crying because they didn't know where they were going to go. They were in the lobby in a bathrobe. So, there you go.

And now, these people are walking through all of this debris, and, you know, I guess I don't even know what time it is -- midnight, whatever time it is. They're going to be here until probably 1:00, 2:00, 3:00, 4:00 in the morning when it starts to get colder, and they're going to have to be out here. Look at all this debris. Look at the metal going through here.

NAMDAR: Hey, Don. Do you see enough --

LEMON: Look how they had it blocked off, Asieh.

NAMDAR: Don, do you see enough security around you, and do you see anything suspicious like looting or people acting out of control? Or does it seem pretty much --

LEMON: No.

NAMDAR: OK. LEMON: I have not seen anything like that. And you know the security in this area. Obviously, no one expects anything like this. And I'm sure the city has an emergency plan. But how often can you really plan. You can probably plan for some flooding and some other sort of damage. But how often do you plan for tornado damage in the middle of downtown?

So I think they probably -- for what happened, they have it pretty well under control. There's no looting or anything like this. This is an area that has a lot of security, especially CNN security, Omni security, Turner security. You know, we've got a police substation right in the lobby of this building. So at least -- and then you have security for all the other venues that are here like the Georgia Dome and the Convention Center.

So everyone sort of kicked, and I even saw the people who were inside of the -- who worked inside the hotel. Some of the employees obviously who were called in, some of them took their jackets off, put orange vests on, so that they could assist people who were in distress, and talk to people who needed answers or may have had some questions about certain things.

And that none of the escalators, none of that working. The elevators, none of that working at the time. So the people who came down, walked down. And I'm not sure of the Omni, probably what? A good 10, 15 floors at least from where I can see or more. I mean, can you imagine having to run down the stairs when you're...

NAMDAR: No.

(CROSSTALK)

LEMON: It's 9:45 at night in your hotel room?

NAMDAR: I can't. I cannot imagine.

LEMON: Yes. So that's what's going -- there -- look, turn around. Show these folks here. Where were these guys? OK, hang on.

NAMDAR: They're all on their cell phones.

LEMON: This guy -- Asieh, sorry. We're going all the way around in circles. Sorry, if we make some people dizzy at home. But you were in the Omni Hotel. What's your name? What's your name? What's your name?

LEE ARCH, OMNI HOTEL GUEST: My name is Lee Arch (ph). We're from Raleigh, North Carolina. I'm here for the Hinman Dental Convention. That's glass falling.

LEMON: Did you see that? Glasses. As we were talking here, glass behind us is falling out out of some of the windows here.

But sorry, you said your name --

ARCH: I'm Lee. I was in room 525 just watching the end of the Mississippi State game and the next thing I know, I hear a blast of glass, and I guess I jumped about 30 feet towards my door and took the elementary tornado stance outside in the hallway.

LEMON: Did you really?

ARCH: I did. I did. I learned that in elementary school.

LEMON: So you knew exactly -- you knew what was going on?

ARCH: No, I had no clue. I just hopped out. I mean, when my window in my room just blasted out, it was just the loudest noise I had ever heard. So I hopped out in the hallway and then saw that things were starting to come down and people were frantic and --

LEMON: Were people running out of their rooms?

ARCH: Running. Everyone was -- yes, and then getting down in a stance to where we didn't know the doors were blowing. I mean, everything. All of the windows on that side of the hotel --

LEMON: I just saw some lightning over there just over your shoulder.

ARCH: Yes. It's not going, it doesn't look like.

LEMON: So, OK -- so people are doing that. Do you have lights? Is it emergency generators, or is it regular lights?

ARCH: You know, I'm not sure. The TV was still working because I went back in, as a matter of fact, to see if I could see a weather forecast or anything like that. And then --

LEMON: I don't know if you guys can hear that. Sorry to cut you off. But that is a big clap of thunder there. I just saw a big lightning rod go, a big lightning single off over there strike. My gosh, I'm so tired.

You have no idea how much I ran. Thank you for that.

NAMDAR: Hey, Don.

LEMON: A big lightning strike over there. So --

Yes, hang on real quick. I want to ask them. So you don't --

Real quick, Asieh. So you were -- you don't know if the lights were on. You said that you don't know --

ARCH: The lights were on.

LEMON: Real quickly. Electricity -- did you take the elevator or you ran down the stairs?

ARCH: I ran down the stairs.

LEMON: Everybody --

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes, I talked to this guy who was in the elevator. He said he was lucky to get out.

LEMON: All right. Again, I saw a lightning strike. Whoo, man.

All right. Go ahead. What did you want to ask me?

NAMDAR: Actually, I was going to say we're going to go to something else right now. But we might come back to you.

LEMON: OK.

NAMDAR: So don't go away.

LEMON: OK.

NAMDAR: We actually want to go to Mary Jo Mitchell from our Kentucky affiliate WLEY. She is actually in Atlanta, Georgia. She was -- WLEX, I apologize. She's in Atlanta. She was attending the championship, basketball championship.

Mary Jo, are with you us?

ENGEL: Hey, guys, it's Amy.

NAMDAR: Mary Jo, can you hear me? It's Asieh.

Mary Jo, Mitchell?

MARY JO MITCHELL, CNN AFFILIATE REPORTER, WLEX: I can hear you.

NAMDAR: OK. Tell us what happened and where you were.

MITCHELL: -- the part of the Georgia Dome in the press box when we saw -- there's a gigantic monitor and a gigantic scoreboard, those hanging from the ceiling in the Georgia Dome, and they started swaying back and forth. And as soon as that happened, we heard, you know, how everyone describes it, like a freight train coming over your head. And people just started running. It was like pandemonium inside the Georgia Dome.

NAMDAR: Mary Jo, obviously you're a journalist. Have you ever experienced something like this in your life?

MITCHELL: Absolutely not. Nothing like this. And despite all the debris that's downtown, the people that are injured, you know, just the fact that this happened in Atlanta tonight, might end up changing one of the biggest days in sports in America, which is Selection Sunday, where everyone is glued to their TV set to find out who's filling out the NCAA basketball brackets.

Because of this, the SEC has not made a decision, but they may delay the games a day which would mean the championship game for this conference will be played on Monday. So the NCAA Tournament Committee could not fill out those brackets on Selection Sunday. It would now become Selection Monday. That's a possibility. They haven't made that decision yet.

NAMDAR: So Mary Jo, when you were sitting there and you felt this massive power inside the dome, what did people around you do?

MITCHELL: They were running. And I really think everybody thought that the ceiling was about to collapse in. And several panels of the Georgia Dome actually did come down, and we saw insulation and debris, and I don't know what else flying through onto the court in the Georgia Dome. So people were running trying to take cover. I think everybody really thought that the ceiling was going to cave in.

NAMDAR: Thank you very much, Mary Jo Mitchell. We're glad you're safe.

Let's bring back senior producer from CNN.com Amy Engel. We talked to her earlier. Amy, I understand, we have some video of the damage where you are at the Cotton Mill Loft.

ENGEL: Yes, I think you're looking at it right now. You could see that the entire roof is ripped off of one building and surrounding that on the ground, there's bricks everywhere and debris and trees down. And an entire building has half the, you know, structure ripped off. And then outside around in the parking lot there's probably, I don't know, 50 residents all standing around with their dogs, cats, family, just waiting for Red Cross to come out here to set up a little headquarters.

NAMDAR: Amy, is this your building? Is this where you live?

ENGEL: No, I live about five minutes down the road from this. So I was on the other side of I-20, but it's about 10 minutes away from the CNN Center, just to give a little bit of a perspective.

NAMDAR: Have you been able to go around your building and inspect the damage there?

ENGEL: No. My building is fine.

NAMDAR: OK.

ENGEL: So we did not get hit at all. We're fine. But as I was driving here, we did -- I did pass several homes that had trees in the middle and devastated families crying outside as they put crime tape up. It's just a mess over here in what they call Cabbagetown. They got really hard hit.

NAMDAR: Ahh, I mean, the pictures on the top, you can see it. You just -- it kind of makes you wonder how bad the damage is in the interior apartment buildings. And I guess time will tell. Do we want to go to Rob Marciano, and get a check of the weather situation, Mary?

OK. Let's go to Rob.

Rob, everyone is talking about this sort of story. It's unusual in a metropolitan city, in a downtown area. Is it unusual?

ROB MARCIANO, CNN METEOROLOGIST: Well, it's unusual but it's not unheard of. People tend to think that there's this -- that buildings in a big city will keep a storm away or a tornado away. But that's just a myth. The reason that we don't often hear about tornadoes that come through a big metropolitan area like Atlanta, like Chicago, Dallas or New York or those areas, is because of the sheer -- because there's so little space that these metropolitan areas take up.

So the odds are just very, very small that you'll get a tornado, which, you know, usually is very, very small, much less than a kilometer in width. So the odds of getting one in a major metropolitan area is the reason that we don't see it too often.

This definitely looks like a tornado to me. I know we're saying possible tornado. It doesn't become official until the National Weather Service goes out there and checks it out. But there's no doubt in my mind, walking through the damage and now what we're seeing here broadcast internationally, that this was at least an F-1, EF-1 or EF-2 tornado, likely with winds upwards of a 100 or more miles an hour.

NAMDAR: So are we out of the danger zone, the Atlanta area?

MARCIANO: We do have one cell that's about to move through. You mentioned when Don was on about five minutes ago, he said, well, there's more lightning coming through.

NAMDAR: Right.

MARCIANO: There's another batch of thunderstorms that are about to move through Atlanta. They are not classified as severe. There's no severe thunderstorm warning or no tornado warning that's in effect with these storms that are about to move through. So I think we'll just see a burst of heavy rain, maybe some gusty winds. But that doesn't bode well for people who don't have a roof, you know.

NAMDAR: Right, right.

MARCIANO: But the good news is these were two renegade cells that moved across the area that dropped -- at least one dropped a tornado, possibly two, across the Atlanta metropolitan area outside of what the Storm Prediction Center, that's what the U.S. -- it's a special unit within the National Weather Service here in the United States that forecast areas that they think tornadoes are going to happen. And this was out of that area.

NAMDAR: Yes.

MARCIANO: So, really, really took us by surprise.

NAMDAR: You know, we were talking with Martyn Jeanes, just -- I believe it was our 9:00 show and he was telling us that this storm is coming, but the fact that it happened so quickly, honestly took a lot of us in the newsroom completely off guard.

MARCIANO: And it did. And I got to say to you, you know, they did not issue a tornado warning until pretty much over the tornado on the ground. And this really took a lot of us in the meteorology community by surprise.

NAMDAR: By surprise.

MARCIANO: Certainly, and it does happen even though we thought there'd be severe weather. We thought it would be west of here.

NAMDAR: Right.

MARCIANO: We thought it would be in the Louisiana, Mississippi area. Not yet coming into the Georgia area until tomorrow. But, you know, mother nature has her own calendar and she has her own schedule.

NAMDAR: Rob, let's go back to Don Lemon outside CNN Center. Don, back to you.

LEMON: Hey, Asieh, you know, we had to -- I was trying to tell you guys, it was raining here earlier and every time the rain comes, people get a little bit nervous because they think something is going to happen.

I just want to show you, check this out. This is what people are walking in. This is just a little bit of the mix. Do you see that? Look at that glass in there. I mean, that's what people have to walk through down here, and this is how everything just sort of shattered when people said the windows just sort of exploded.

Take a look back here. This is the emergency response. You see all along to all along the perimeter of the CNN Center, the Omni Hotel, the Convention Center, every venue that's around this area, it's all cordoned off like this. And it is literally for blocks and blocks and blocks of downtown city streets. So trying to get here is a disaster.

Hey, real quick, look at this. This is what they're doing. They're taking Saran wrap from the hotel and putting it up over some of the windows here just to keep the water off the floors. That's the initial measures that they're taking to try to secure the hotel.

And check this over here. On the other side of that sign where it's hanging down, you see the insulation out and that ladder like thing in front, that says Omni Hotel. And so, one of the guests came out and said, hey, if you go to the other side of that sign, you'll see Omni Hotel upside down over there.

Someone just brought me a glove over here, and I want to show you exactly, just to show you again, Asieh, if you're down here. That's it. Look at that.

NAMDAR: Hey, Don, be careful. I know you're wearing gloves, but that's glass.

LEMON: Yes, yes. So through this -- and not only this. And parts of the area down here, there were downed power lines and then you also -- the officer, when I was on earlier during our domestic hour, said that there was a building collapse just on the other side of Centennial and Olympic Park over here.

This is the park right here. Centennial Olympic Park, built obviously for the Olympics here. And then, on the other side of that, more hotels, the building collapse supposedly on the other side. And then, apparently somewhere around, I'm not exactly sure, we had the officer over just a little bit go.

There is a command center and a command post and a triage area where they're taking people who were not in the hotel. But the people who were in the hotel are being triaged over here behind these two officers. These two officers, I'm sure you know. Very familiar. They greet us every day on our way into work here. They're securing the perimeter here.

And so, the folks inside of there -- in the exhibit hall are the people who are out of their hotel rooms and who don't want to be out here on the streets getting wet. I don't know if you can see. It's starting to rain here again.

You were up on the 14th floor. Tell me your name again.

RILEY, OMNI HOTEL GUEST: My name is Riley (ph).

LEMON: Riley. You're on the 14th floor during the time it came through. Tell me what happened.

RILEY: I was sitting there watching the basketball game and suddenly it got really loud. I looked out the window, and I could actually see the rotation of debris going around. It was quite frightening for a second.

LEMON: You were on the 14th floor. You could see the debris swirling around. Where were you looking? Over the park? Where?

RILEY: Fourteenth floor of the South Tower here looking over, I believe, the parking garage for the Allstate Center.

LEMON: Yes.

RILEY: And we looked out and once it passed over, we looked over the edge and we saw emergency personnel storming the streets, debris everywhere. Within the hotel, there's broken glass everywhere.

LEMON: What did you do?

RILEY: We immediately evacuated. They sent us down to the basement where all the guests went.

LEMON: In that exhibit hall A? Or wherever that (INAUDIBLE) --

RILEY: Right.

LEMON: Did they tell you anything about stability or structure or roof or anything?

RILEY: They didn't say anything in regard to that. However, they did provide us with water. They did try to get us in a secure and safe place.

LEMON: Yes, and that's what we're talking. Riley, thank you. I want to show you the Atlanta Fire Department right here, obviously trying to secure the scene here. They're working on. You can see the tools in the guys' hands here. Obviously working on someone or trying to get something out of the way or debris or what have you. But I've been watching this, witnessing this for well over an hour now, even running over here to do that.

There's a firefighter who we're going to get to talk to in just a little bit over here. My producer is actually working on that so I can give that to you, Asieh. But I really just want people -- hey, look at this. I'm just seeing this.

Do you see that Philips Arena sign over there? There's a Philips Arena sign over there, and that says everything.

NAMDAR: Yes.

LEMON: That is a very clean billboard. I think it's over a hotel or a restaurant there.

(CROSSTALK)

NAMDAR: Some of the letters look like they're falling off.

LEMON: Yes, and the letters have fallen off and then you can see some of the siding and the facade of the building just sort of torn off in ribbons. Do you see it below that?

NAMDAR: Yes.

LEMON: Asieh?

NAMDAR: Yes. I see more of it. I'd say it's a heck.

LEMON: That's the strength of this storm. And take a look over to the left. See that billboard that's usually the CNN billboard right here? Just on the edge of that billboard, it's been ripped off.

NAMDAR: You're right.

LEMON: Right there at Centennial Olympic Park and Marietta. And then, surprisingly, back over by the Philips sign, if you look at the huge wide screen jumbotron here still playing and nothing touched. But that's the weirdness when you have situations like this, when you have either straight line winds or tornadoes --

(CROSSTALK)

NAMDAR: Hey, Don. I think we want to get an update on --

I'm sorry to interrupt you.

LEMON: Yes.

NAMDAR: But we want to get an update on the injuries. We want to go back to Veronica De La Cruz outside Grady Hospital. Veronica, what can you tell us? I understand you have an update.

DE LA CRUZ: Hi, Asieh. Yes, I'm standing right outside of Grady, right outside of the emergency room. And here's the update. We know that one person has suffered a life-threatening injury. We have a total of nine people who have been transported tonight. I think we were just listening to Don, and he was talking about a firefighter who was tending to people at Cotton Mill Lofts. Apparently, he was transported with ankle injuries.

So a total of nine people injured, one suffering life-threatening injuries. The other eight, mostly superficial injuries, minor injuries. We're talking about cuts, abrasions, due to all the flying glass, the debris.

And, you know, what I can say is it was really difficult getting down here. The area is still cordoned off, and the power is out in this area. I'm looking down the street right now, and a lot of the street lights are out and I still hear the sirens going.

So I did talk to the hospital spokesperson. She said that EMS is still taking calls from people. I know that they were treating people on the scene in the area of the Georgia Pacific Company, the paper company. I believe it's on Peachtree Road. But people are still continuing to call in. There are people mostly walking wounded. Again, a lot of the superficial injuries, just walking into the emergency room right now.

But we're on the phone with the hospital spokesperson. We're also talking to people here on the scene. But right now, we know there's a total of nine people that have been transported tonight. Again, one person suffering life-threatening injuries. They're still assessing all the injuries.

(CROSSTALK)

NAMDAR: Veronica, it may be -- it may be too soon to ask you this question. But do you know the person who suffered, you know, threatening injury? How this person was hurt? Do you know anything about that or no?

DE LA CRUZ: I do not know that. Asieh, what I can tell you is that person was transported from the area around the CNN Center, and I know that you know how bad the damage is in that area. I don't know exactly where they were, if they were in the Georgia Dome, if they were inside the CNN Center. All I know is that they were picked up and transported from that area. But, again, we're going to continue to stay on top of this.

NAMDAR: Thank you, Veronica.

DE LA CRUZ: And I'll bring you the update.

NAMDAR: And you're looking at video, I believe, from CNN library, right here at CNN Center. You can see the roof completely ripped off, insulation hanging out. And earlier, we saw shots of tapes all over the floor. Again, I believe, if I'm not mistaken, this is the CNN library just a couple of floors above us, above the CNN International Newsroom. Let's go to Mike Brooks. He's CNN's security analyst. He's in east Atlanta. Hi Mike.

MIKE BROOKS, CNN SECURITY ANALYST: Hi, Asieh. You're absolutely right. That's part of the library there at CNN Center. In fact, I was down there earlier tonight doing headline prime news. And I came home and before everything broke loose and then I was talking to sources. I was listening to what was going on and talking to my sources here with the Atlanta Fire Department, and they were extremely, extremely packed with what was going on.

In fact, the Georgia (INAUDIBLE) the building collapsed. And the lofts that we were talking about around (ph) boulevard, and towards -- go over towards east Atlanta, you know, we heard from Veronica that there was one firefighter injured. That was just --

NAMDAR: Oops. Mike, are you still there, or did we lose you? Mike? We apparently lost Mike Brooks, CNN security analyst.

Let us tell you what has been going on the last few hours in Atlanta. Downtown Atlanta, a major storm believed to be a tornado hit CNN Center and the surrounding buildings. There are nine confirmed injuries, one life-threatening.

Do we have Mike Brooks back on the line? Mike, are you back with us? Let's go back to Don Lemon. Don?

(CROSSTALK)

LEMON: Hey, Asieh.

NAMDAR: We're phoning it back to you.

LEMON: How are you?

NAMDAR: We lost Mike Brooks on the phone.

LEMON: I got it. I got it, Asieh. Not to worry.

So we're standing here with Chief Rasinski (ph). You're from Battalion Three. You've been out here all night. We were -- I just noticed that Philips sign that's down right there. Tell us what's going on in this corner. What happened to the sign?

CHIEF RASINSKI, BATTALION THREE: Well, apparently a tornado touched down in the downtown area, took out the sign but it also did some major damage to the CNN Center. A number of windows were taken out. There's some structural damage to the roof and the atrium area. And also, there was some damage over at the dome.

LEMON: OK. When you say structural damage to the roof of the atrium area, is that why people are being told that they can't go back into their rooms in the Omni? RASINSKI: Well, we're not letting people go back in the rooms if they have damage in their room. We were holding them back because there was a second weather cell coming through. So we want them all to stay in interior hallways so that's what security did for us.

But once they said the weather had passed, we told them to go back into their rooms. If their rooms were damaged, get in contact with the hotel people and they would move them. So they moved a lot of the people over into the hotel over here.

LEMON: Which is the other tower?

RASINSKI: Which is the other tower.

LEMON: So basically, there are two towers. There's a south tower, which is the original tower, and the north tower, which is a new tower here. It looks like the north tower, Chief, didn't really suffer as much damage as the south tower.

RASINSKI: Well, that's what a tornado will do. It will come down and touch one house, and the other house next to it will be fine.

LEMON: Yes, I was trying to make that point earlier with Asieh. Hey, Chief Rasinski (ph), thank you very much for joining us here.

That's what I was trying to tell you earlier. It's like that's the random nature of a tornado. Anything like this where you said the Philips sign, you know, completely just demolished and then we've got the big jumbotron there completely intact. The north side of the building intact, the south side of the building in shambles. So that's the randomness of this all -- Asieh.

NAMDAR: Thanks so much, Don. I'm sure it will be a long night ahead for you, journalists and rescue officials working in the area, and people who are in those hotels with no where to go in downtown Atlanta.

Let us tell you again what has been happening the last few hours. A major storm -- tornado hit downtown area. Nine injuries, one life- threatening. We are following the story. We'll bring you more details as we get it. Let's go to a break.

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