Everyone who attended the 2008 Hinman Dental Meeting will never forget where they were at 9:40 pm on Friday night. That was when a totally unannounced tornado slammed into the Atlanta downtown smashing into the Georgia Dome, the Georgia World Conference Center (GWCC) and the Omni Hotel. Approximately 8,000 people were watching a basketball game in the Georgia Dome that was tied after regulation. It was during the overtime that the tornado struck, causing a tear in the fabric roof and debris that showered down on the court and the crowd. If that game had ended on time, all of those people would have been on the streets when the tornado hit.
I was having dinner with my son Marty, Genna Leutzinger, and several friends at the Ruth's Chris Steak House in the Embassy Suites Hotel next to Centennial Olympic Park, when a thunderstorm moved into the area with a fascinating lightning and thunder show. Then the rain started and quickly became a downpour. The tornado quickly followed. We did not realize it was a tornado until we left the restaurant and began walking back to the Omni Hotel where we were all staying. As we turned the corner we could see the tremendous amount of damage to the Omni and the CNN Center. The street was covered with at least two inches of glass, cars were overturned, cars were abandoned on the street with the windows all blown out, hotel windows were gone, and the drapes were waving in the wind and people were wandering around.
We got into the hotel by way of the motor lobby and made our way to the entrance to the CNN Center. The security people and police were blocking the entrance to the stairways. I was worried about my laptop computer that was sitting on my desk about two feet away from the window. Luckily, the hotel did not loose electrical power so we had light. After about a half an hour, we were able to make our way to the third floor lobby and the stairway. We climbed to the ninth floor and checked out Genna’s room, which was ok. Then Marty and I climbed to the 14th floor to our room. We opened the door and immediately saw that my laptop had survived but the center window had blown into the room leaving a huge pile of glass on the carpet. We packed and moved out of the room.
The Hinman Dental Meeting was cancelled early the next morning and we were all lucky to get flights out Saturday morning. The destruction was even more evident in the daylight. Amazingly, no one was killed! God was certainly looking out for his people Friday night.
- Joe Blaes, DDS