First person: Randall Kessler inside arena during tornados

By Randall Kessler, Specail to the Daily Report
The Daily Report
03/17/2008

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I was at the Atlanta Hawks vs. Los Angeles Clippers game Friday night.

Near the end of the fourth quarter, during a rare lopsided Hawks victory, it suddenly looked like it was snowing inside Philips Arena as particles from the roof fell (asbestos perhaps?). When I heard rumors of a storm, I decided to leave two minutes before the end of the game. When I did, I could not believe my eyes.

First, as I tried to leave the arena to go into CNN center, the doors were closed and security was suggesting everyone stay in the arena as a tornado had just hit and another was expected. Then I looked out of the arena and into CNN Center and the tables in CNN center were all turned over, ceiling tile was on the floor and other debris was everywhere.

I left Philips as the crowd began to surge and nature took its course and the doors were opened. But that was nothing compared with what I saw when I exited CNN Center by McCormick and Schmicks. Gates and fencing from Centennial Olympic park were in the middle of the street along with sheets of metal from somewhere. Trees were uprooted and glass was everywhere.

I ran to our building one block away pausing to take two or three photos to be sure I remembered what I saw. When I entered my building, all the cleaning people and security staff were on the lobby level and I took off since I knew another tornado was expected and traffic was going to be a mess.

No traffic lights worked and a few were dangling. As I crossed Peachtree, the arm that holds the traffic lights had been blown to the side and a guy in a suit and tie was helping direct traffic.

The rest was uneventful except that I was driving right towards tons of lightning and I knew that my wife and one year old daughter were on the road home from Target. Everything ended up alright but as I watched the news and the internet, I had this eerie feeling that I was very lucky. We were all very lucky.

I grew up in New Orleans, and the house I grew up in, where my father and step mother continued to live was filled with eight feet of water during hurricane Katrina and had to be demolished. They have since left New Orleans as have many of my friends who have all had to start over.

Perhaps there is a reason for this reminder that no matter what we do, how much we plan, we can never be one hundred percent safe and life will always bring unexpected events. It reminds me to be thankful every day for being alive and healthy.

Randall M. Kessler is Family Law Attorney with Kessler, Schwarz & Solomiany, P.C. whose office is in downtown Atlanta, one block from CNN Center where the tornado touched down.

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