On Top of the Tornado

3 Mar

Storms swept across Tennessee today and left some destruction in their wake. Tornado warnings and watches were all over as the map turned green, orange and red. Thankfully, not much happened around my house, but it reminded me of a time that I found myself on top of the tornado. This tornado to be specific:

In 2008, my girlfriend of the time and I traveled to Atlanta for the Southeastern Conference basketball tournament. We hit the afternoon session to see my favorite team, the University of Tennessee, win a close game. As it ended, fans from all of the teams filed out of the Georgia Dome in anticipation of the night session and more excitement to come. However, we had other plans. Dinner reservations at the restaurant on top of our hotel, the kind that slowly turns so patrons can get a panoramic view of the city. After dinner and a few drinks, we would hit the lobby bar before turning in. As we got dressed and prepared for the evening, we could not anticipate what was really going to happen.

As we left the room, she asked if we should take our phones, and I said no because we weren’t even leaving the building. We took the special elevator to the top and exited into a crowded restaurant with people laughing and dishes clanking. With a little time to wait for a table, we found a seat, ordered some drinks and watched the sky light up in the distance. Lightning was everywhere, but it was miles away. At no point did anyone think that it would have an effect on us. Then, it happened. I noticed a strange haze outside and suddenly saw a large piece of something fly by. I immediately grabbed my girlfriend’s arm and said let’s go. Why?

I could only say one word. Tornado.

As we moved it hit the hotel. Diners screamed and began to panic. Chandeliers swayed, hitting the ceiling with each swing. The building was swaying as well. Not a good feeling when you are 73 stories high.

People immediately began running down the stairs thinking that they could beat the fall if the building collapsed. There was no way I was getting trampled in that stampede, so we stayed behind and rode the elevator down with the restaurant staff. By then, the tornado had passed and the electricity had not gone out. It was the slowest elevator ride ever because we really didn’t know if we would make it all the way down. Luckily, we did, and, when the doors opened, we found a lobby turned into a refugee camp. People who had been on the street came straggling in covered with water, dirt, debris and with haggard looks on their faces. It was a disaster movie come to life.

As people continued to pour in, we learned what happened after the tornado hit. It traveled down the street, wreaking havoc along the way, and hit the Georgia Dome where a basketball game was being played. Fans and players scrambled as the roof was ripped apart and pieces fell on top of them. I realized that my dad would have been watching the game and seen the carnage. I didn’t have a phone and was banned from going to the upper floors. Knowing that my parents were home worrying, I could kick myself for leaving my phone behind, but I got lucky again. Sitting on the floor across from me was a man from my hometown. I used his phone to call home, and my parents relayed what they were seeing on television. It was hell outside, and we were lucky to be alive.

After several hours, we were allowed to go to our room and got there at the same time as the people next to us. When they opened the door, they stood with shocked looks on their faces. Like moths to a flame, we followed them in and saw their entire window blown out. We were standing in an open room 40 stories in the air. Lucky once more, our room was untouched.

We left the next day and, for the first time, realized what we had found ourselves in. Debris was piled on all of the streets, and demolition workers had cleared a path on one street to get people to the interstate. It was like driving through an apocalyptic landscape, and we were scared. The shock and adrenaline had worn off, and reality set in. We came close to death and never realized it.

Lucky has been used a lot in this post, but that is an understatement. It’s been four years, and I still don’t have adequate words to describe it.

11 Responses to “On Top of the Tornado”

  1. sj March 3, 2012 at 15:39 #

    Wow. No words.

    • surroundedbyimbeciles March 3, 2012 at 15:43 #

      It was scary. But, there were 1000s of people in the same position we were. There was a great Sports Illustrated article about what happened at the game. Through all of that, I believe no one was killed. Amazing.

  2. Rick January 24, 2017 at 01:22 #

    Reblogged this on SBI: A Thinning Crowd and commented:

    The other day, the Atlanta Falcons won the last football game to be played in the Georgia Dome. Since then, tornados have swept through Georgia. These stories brought to mind an experience from nine years ago. A tornado hit the Georgia Dome, and I was there. This is a post I wrote several years ago about that night.

  3. Marilyn Armstrong January 24, 2017 at 01:47 #

    Right up there in my book for most terrifying things along with earthquakes are tornados. We’ve had a close call or two here (we get tornadoes sometimes in New England), but never THAT close. I think i’d probably still be having nightmares. Makes a great tale, but I don’t envy you the close call. Too close for my taste!

    • Rick January 24, 2017 at 01:52 #

      I didn’t realize that New England had tornados. The South has been called the new Tornado Alley.

  4. jcalberta January 24, 2017 at 04:59 #

    See !… basketball can be dangerous to your health.
    I’ve never experienced a tornado up close. I hope to keep my record intact.

    • Rick January 24, 2017 at 20:03 #

      It’s not fun.


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