SEC Tourney halted by powerful storms

ATLANTA – Mississippi State guard Ben Hansbrough was guarding Alabama's Mykal Riley when bad weather hit the Georgia Dome during the SEC Tournament on Friday night.

"I thought it was a tornado or a terrorist attack," Hansbrough said.

He and his teammates were shortly whisked off the floor as at least one small piece of metal fell onto the courtside press table. At approximately 9:40 p.m. the Dome's plastic roof began to rumble and shake and interiors television monitors began to sway. A metal washer 11/2 inches in width fell onto the press table and several other popping sounds could be heard as officials scrambled to determine what was happening.

Georgia athletics director Damon Evans, who was in the stands waiting for the Bulldogs' scheduled game with Kentucky to begin, didn't realize anything was wrong at first, he said.

"I thought back up there in the bleachers the Kentucky people were stomping on the bleachers, so I turned around, but when I turned around, I saw they were looking back," Evans said. "That's when I saw the roof moving."

The National Weather Service hadn't declared the event a tornado as of 9:30 p.m., but an Atlanta police officer working outside the building said she saw a tornado. The officer, who asked her name not be used, drove her truck down into an underground parking garage and through the wooden arm blocking the drive to escape the storm, she said.

"When I was coming down the hill, the wind was just moving (the truck)," she said. "We saw the tail end of it. It was kind of like it came right at us and then lifted up and went up to the top of the building."

Debris, including siding from the outside of the Georgia Dome littered a small parking lot between the Dome and the Georgia World Congress Center and stairs leading down to a lower level entrance. A 20-foot sign off Northside Drive marking the parking entrance to Gate C was blown down to about two-thirds of its original height.

Several fans began to scramble for the exit when an interior panel in the Georgia Dome blew off, allowing wind to be felt at floor level. Fans were blocked by security guards, and the rattling roof and sounds of heavy wind stopped seconds later.

Mississippi State and Alabama were pulled off the court with 2:11 remaining in overtime of their game but returned to the floor 50 minutes later. The teams warmed up for 10 minutes and then finished their game, a 69-67 Mississippi State win.

The Bulldogs were in their locker room when the storm hit, assistant coach Pete Herrmann said. Herrmann, who waited out a tornado in San Francisco several years ago, immediately recognized the noise, but the players and coaches felt safe in the locker room Friday night, he said.

After the Mississippi State-Alabama game ended, SEC and Georgia Dome officials were waiting for word on a second storm cell before determining whether the Bulldogs and Wildcats would play. No decision had been made as of 11:20 p.m.

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