Basketball fans make best of stormy SEC situation

WVLT Volunteer TV Sports Director Rick Russo surveys storm damage from the parking lot of the Georgia World Congress.
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ATLANTA (WVLT) -- For two days, loyal basketball fans traveled I-75 south to watch games in person at the SEC Tournament.

But after Mother Nature changed things by rearing her ugly head, many of those fans found themselves disappointed and irate over not being able to attended the semi-finals in person.

As the night time gave way to Saturday's daylight, you can see just how strong the storm that ripped through downtown Atlanta was.

Debris littered the parking lot of the Georgia World Congress, consisting of the shattered safety glass of windshields and fallen pieces of nearby buildings.

Sports fans were a common sight in the morning as they returned to their cars to retrieve their stuff.

Around noon, the National Weather Service finally confirmed what many already knew, that a powerful tornado, packing 130 mile per hour winds, had made a mess of downtown Atlanta.

"I heard everybody start saying tornado, tornado and then they just started running to the back of the restaurant," said one witness. "I heard the windows shatter and break, and then everything was flying inside the restaurant."

"It was insane, just the wind and everything," said a basketball fan who was inside the Georgia Dome. "There was glass, plastic, and everything, even signs were coming off and shooting everywhere."

"You didn't know what to do," recalled another fan at the tournament, "you're were just kind of hoping to get inside somewhere, yet there were pieces of metal and pieces of the dome flying all around you."

Around 4:30 AM on Saturday, SEC officials decided to move the games to Georgia Tech's Alexander Memorial Coliseum, based on damage to the dome and the potential for more severe weather.

The only problem was the new facility held nearly 20,000 people less than the Georgia Dome, meaning the only people who could get seats were the family members of players, school representatives, and credentialed members of the media.

"We're working on a refund situation right now," said Charles Bloom, the associate commissioner of the Southeastern Conference. "As you can imagine, we have been pretty busy and there are a lot of different issues to discuss."

It was also on Saturday morning that Tennessee and Kentucky fans were waking up to the realization that they weren't going to get into the arena to watch their teams play.

"We drove about four hours to come here last night," said a Vol fan, "so its pretty upsetting to get here and not be able to go in."

"I think I should get more back than just my ticket money," said an angry Kentucky fan. "I should get back my motel money, my gas money, my expenses and the hell I went through last night in that Georgia Dome while thinking that thing was going to fall down on me. I have never been so scared in my life."

So without the chance to get a seat Alexander Memorial, many SEC fans were relegated to watching the action from local establishments and downtown hotels.

"I was very surprised to wake up this morning and look out our window and see all the damage," said a fan staying on the 43rd floor of a downtown hotel. "We didn't realize it was that extensive and it certainly took a tornado to stop the Vols I guess."

In the end, the basketball fans found themselves making the best of a difficult situation.

"If you could see the debris and all the destruction in the city, it's quiet evident that they probably made the right decision," said another UT fan.

As of Saturday night, the SEC had still not decided how to handle ticket refunds, though if you bought your seat through a scalper or broker, you are not likely to get your money back.

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