Last Updated Apr 5, 2017 9:03 PM EDT
ATLANTA -- A large tornado touched down in rural southwest Georgia on Wednesday, toppling trees and power lines as dangerous storms battered the Deep South with heavy rain and hail as large as baseballs in spots.
Forecasters said a wide area including large parts of Alabama, Georgia and South Carolina were under the threat of powerful, long-lived tornadoes. Schools, churches and some businesses shut as a precaution.
CBS affiliate WGCL meteorologist Ella Dorsey says a confirmed tornado touched down in south Georgia and “catastrophic damage” is being reported.
High winds from the storm downed power lines and trees along roads and beside an interstate, Stewart County Sheriff Office dispatcher Sandra James said by phone. She said she was unaware of any injuries or deaths.
A suspected tornado also touched down in southeastern Alabama, before crossing into Georgia, National Weather Service meteorologist Mark Wool said.
In Alabama, the storm hit an area dotted with vacation and full-time homes around Lake Eufaula, damaging some homes and knocking down power lines and trees, said John Taylor, an official with the Henry County Emergency Management Agency. There were no immediate reports of injuries or deaths there, but emergency crews were still on the scene sorting things out.
Storm shetlers opened up in Birmingham and central Alabama Wednesday as residents prepared to buckle down for the storms, CBS affiliate WIAT reports.
The National Weather Service said strong storms were expected from Alabama to the Carolinas. Forecasters issued multiple watches and warnings as a line of weather moved through Georgia. Metro Atlanta is under a moderate risk of severe thunderstorms Wednesday, which means widespread severe storms and tornadoes are expected, WGCL reports.
Tornadoes weren’t the only threat Wednesday. The nation’s Storm Prediction Center said winds blowing to near 70 mph in places toppled trees in several locations across Alabama, Georgia and South Carolina.
Alabama’s governor declared a state of emergency because of the threat, resulting in multiple school closings, and many schools in South Carolina dismissed classes early.
The Federal Aviation Administration temporarily halted flights to Atlanta’s international airport for a time but later allowed them to resume, amid delays for both departing and arriving flights. Churches that normally have mid-week dinners or worship services canceled activities rather than risk having members out in dangerous weather.
And as storms bore down on Augusta National, the venerable east Georgia club was shut down for the second time this week as golfers were practicing for the opening of the Masters tournament.
Officials cut short the final afternoon of practice before the tournament start, as well as the popular Par 3 Contest. Fans were ordered to leave the course. Augusta National also was forced to close Monday because of heavy rains.
In the east Alabama city of Oxford, convenience store manager Don Copeland was working up courage to go outside and look at his truck after a storm dumped so much grape-sized hail the ground turned white.
“It’s a 2015. I just made a $550 payment this morning,” Copeland said.
The weather service said it had received reports of baseball-sized hail in the west Alabama town of Camden, but only small ice pellets fell at the McGraw-Webb Chevrolet Inc.
“Thank goodness we did not get that. We just had pea-sized hail, and two or three cars were damaged,” said Evan Bohannon, who handles online sales for the dealership.
Alabama Gov. Robert Bentley said the state of emergency would last until the severe weather subsides. He said in a news release that 50 National Guard soldiers also will be deployed in the state.
Alabama Power Co. said it was dealing with nearly 3,000 electrical outages statewide, a little more than the 2,400 outages reported by Georgia Power. Some Alabama businesses shut down because of the weather threat.
The outbreak of severe weather was the second to hit the South in less than a week. Storms on Sunday and Monday killed five people, including a Mississippi woman who desperately tried to direct rescuers to her sinking vehicle after it skidded into a rain-swollen creek.
In Goodman, in southwest Missouri, an EF-2 tornado with wind speeds of up to 120 mph (193 kph) hit Tuesday night, damaging a fire station, elementary school and several other buildings, the National Weather Service said Wednesday. One person was taken to a hospital with a possible broken ankle, but no deaths or serious injuries were reported. The small town is about 30 miles south of Joplin, Missouri, where an EF-5 tornado killed 161 people in May 2011.