A storm system moving through the Southeast on Wednesday spawned at least five suspected tornadoes in Georgia and South Carolina, according to forecasters.
Meteorologist Patrick Marsh with the nation's Storm Prediction Center said suspected tornadoes were reported in Newton, Randolph, Webster and Dodge counties in Georgia and in Saluda County, South Carolina.
A wide area of the South, including Alabama, Georgia and parts of South Carolina were under the threat of powerful, long-lived tornadoes, according to forecasters. Schools, churches and some businesses shut down across the region as a precaution.
There were no immediate reports of injuries, deaths or major damage from the tornado in Georgia's Stewart County, authorities in the largely rural region said. National Weather Service meteorologist Keith Stellman told the Associated Press the tornado touched down about noon and traveled some distance on the ground.
Winds toppled several trees along roads and an interstate and power lines also were down, Stewart County Sheriff Office dispatcher Sandra James said by phone. She said she was unaware of any injuries or major damage to buildings or homes.
Authorities in Johnston, South Carolina, a town of 2,300 that calls itself The Peach Capital of The World, reported a possible tornado there damaged about a dozen buildings. Crews couldn't immediately check nearby peach orchards but authorities said those were already severely damaged by a late March hard freeze.
Johnston Mayor Terrence Cullbreath said he opened a local armory as a shelter and that lights were out and many streets were blocked by fallen trees. Thousands had lost power across the three states Wednesday, with utilities struggling to keep up.
"We need power back," Cullbreath told the AP by phone. "But there likely are more storms coming and they can't get the power back in bad weather."
The first round of severe weather moved into the metro Atlanta area early Wednesday morning during rush hour, causing major traffic delays and dangerous driving conditions, FOX 5 Atlanta reported.
The storms also caused travel delays at Atlanta's Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport, where FAA officials ordered a ground stop, halting all incoming and outgoing flights. The ground stop was lifted shortly after 1:30 p.m. local time.
Fire crews also investigated several house fires in metro Atlanta, which may have been sparked by lightening, according to FOX 5 Atlanta.
In neighboring Alabama, Gov. Robert Bentley declared a state of emergency because of the threat, resulting in multiple school closings, and many schools in South Carolina dismissed classes early.
The weather also affected the Masters golf tournament, where officials suspended practice rounds on Wednesday afternoon, cutting short the final afternoon practice before the start of the tournament. It was the second suspension of play on Wednesday and also cut short the popular Par 3 Contest. Augusta National 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 National 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.
The weather service said strong storms were possible from Alabama to the Carolinas. Forecasters issued multiple watches and warnings as a line of weather moved through Georgia, including metro Atlanta.
Alabama Power Co. reported 5,500 electrical outages statewide early Wednesday, a number that could grow through the day.
In Georgia, National Weather Service meteorologist Laura Belanger said about 75 percent of the state could experience severe weather, with chances worsening in the afternoon.
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.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.