Th 281596

And the walls came tumbling down

April 1, 2008
Hinman visitors were greeted by a tornado that wasn't on the agenda.
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by Penny E. Anderson, Senior Editor

Del Webb, DDS, a noted speaker on dental insurance and former columnist for DE®, survived some harrowing moments at the Hinman Dental Meeting in Atlanta when an uninvited guest — a tornado — showed up.

Dr. Webb arrived at the Hinman Wednesday night and spoke Thursday and Friday on insurance coding and fee management. After his last lecture, he went out to dinner with his host from the Hinman, and then returned to his hotel — the Omni Hotel on top of the CNN Center in the middle of downtown Atlanta.

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"I was in Room 1538," recalls Dr. Webb, "in a corner room with a veranda and a sliding glass door. It was about 9 p.m. when I got back to my room. I turned on the TV, sat on the edge of one of the beds, and watched the Southeastern Conference basketball tournament. As I was watching the game, a crawl came across the screen from the National Weather Service, announcing a tornado warning for Fulton County. I knew that was Atlanta.

"I opened up my sliding glass door and it looked like conditions were ripe for a tornado. I had lived in Dallas before, so I knew about tornadic conditions. Below, I could see the police were out in force and about a dozen motorcyles were lined up … a few moments later, all those motorcycles were tipped over by the high winds. I left the sliding glass door open and opened the door to my room because I knew that was the best thing to do.

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"About 9:42, the wind started whipping through the room, and I knew that was a bad sign. We found out later that the winds at the time were blowing at 135 mph. But then, just as suddenly, the wind stopped and I realized that was a worse sign.

"There were two beds in the room, and I was on the bed furtherest from the bathroom. I knew the bathroom would be the best place to be. So, I headed for the bathroom. I got to the side of the second bed, and something just told me to ‘get down now." I tried to get under the floor of the bed closest to the bathroom, but I just couldn't get my body all the way under it.

"The next thing I knew, what I thought was a picture off the wall hit me on the back of the head and I was trapped. I tried to push the picture off my head and shoulders, but I couldn't lift it. I could see lights coming from outside the door of my room and into the hallway.

"I started slowly crawling, trying to pull myself out from under the picture frame. I finally was able to stand up and when I did, I saw that what I had assumed was a picture frame was actually an entire wall in one sheet, including the wood support and frame. I realized I had no serious injuries and was so grateful when I saw what had fallen on top of me.

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"As they went by my room, people would ask if I was OK and I told them I was. Some even took pictures of my room. Everyone was polite and trying to be helpful.

About 40 minutes later, some firemen came into the room and one of them said, ‘You're out of here, boy!" I started to reach for my bags and he said, ‘You"re out of here; the bags stay."

The firemen walked me down 15 floors of stairs to the ballroom downstairs. They had us stay in the ballroom about three hours. The wife of one of the doctors who was attending the meeting was picking glass out of her feet as a result of high winds blowing out the glass in the windows in their room. She had no shoes on.

"About 1:30 a.m., they told us we could go back to our rooms and get our stuff. I wasn't scheduled to leave Atlanta until the next morning, so I didn't know what else to do but stay in my room in the condition it was in. But another doctor just down the hall came in to my room to tell me he and his wife were leaving right then, and that their room was untouched. He said I was more than welcome to use it.

"When I went down to the room, the doctor's wife said that even though there were two beds in the room, they had only slept in one. So one had clean sheets on it. Clean sheets were the last thing I was worried about at this point, but I thought it was really nice of her.

"The hotel sent up someone to check on me, make sure I didn't need medical attention, or anything else. Although the wall fell on my head, thankfully, there were no injuries.

"At 6 o'clock the next morning, I got into a car to take me to the airport and I had an uneventful flight home. For that, I was most grateful."

And how has this experience left Dr. Webb? He smiles and says, "When you know that no one was seriously injured, it makes the whole thing a fun adventure."

These dentists are tough in the eye of the storm!

Photos courtesy of Gavin Sternberg of D4D Technologies as taken on his iPhone at the site of the tornado that struck the Atlanta area during last month"s Thomas P. Hinman Dental Meeting.

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