Workers cleared wreckage from downtown Atlanta on Saturday after a tornado struck the city, overturning cars, damaging numerous buildings and injuring dozens of people.
Around 30 people were taken to hospital and one was in serious condition after the storm, police said. "It's very significant, very serious storm. There's lots of damage. It's the first tornado of this type in the city for over 30 years," Buzz Weiss, spokesman for the Georgia Emergency Management Agency, said in an interview.
Tornadoes rarely hit major US cities but Friday night's storm powered through as tens of thousands of basketball fans packed stadiums to watch a series of big games.
Police evacuated the multi-story Omni Hotel, which shares a building with the CNN Center, after high winds smashed many windows and spilled debris into the street below.
Winds also broke windows and caused damage at the CNN Center, the television network's headquarters, CNN said. The storm hit the most prominent section of downtown Atlanta, which houses major attractions such as CNN, the Georgia Dome, the Georgia World Congress Center, the Georgia Aquarium and the new World of Coca-Cola.
Those buildings are clustered around Centennial Olympic Park, which was built for the 1996 Summer Olympics. "We are doing everything in our power to respond to what we now know was a tornado that came through," Atlanta Mayor Shirley Franklin told a news conference.
Fresh thunderstorms in Atlanta were likely on Saturday, said the National Weather Service, which is yet to classify Friday's storm as a tornado.
Officials temporarily halted the game between Mississippi State and the University of Alabama at the Georgia Dome as high winds damaged the roof, sparking alarm and causing a large monitor hanging high above the court to sway ominously.
Thousands also attended a National Basketball Association game between the Los Angeles Clippers and Atlanta Hawks at the Philips Arena, adjacent to the CNN Center complex.
Like a freight train
The heavy rain and lightning storm started north of the city and swept through downtown about 9:45 pm (0145 GMT on Saturday), downing at least 37 trees and overturning cars, witnesses and Franklin said.
Emergency services were also searching a building in a suburb of metropolitan Atlanta that partially collapsed "in a pancake fashion," Atlanta fire chief Kelvin Cochran said.
Some 19,000 homes lost power from the storm, Georgia Power officials said, though power was later restored to many homes.
Some witnesses said they heard a sound like a freight train when the storm hit and saw a funnel-shaped cloud.
One female hotel resident told a local television station she saw a whirling circle of debris higher than her 12th-story hotel room.
Tornadoes are common in parts of the US South often leaving a trail of death and devastation but they usually hit rural areas.
The downtown district in Jacksonville, Florida, was hit by a tornado on Aug 12, 2004, according to the National Weather Service. There were no deaths reported.
Two people were killed when a tornado struck downtown Fort Worth, Texas, on March 28, 2000. The deadliest downtown tornado in a US city in recent decades hit Waco, Texas, on May 11, 1953, killing 114.