March 19, 2013 10:20:29 AM
JACKSON -- Severe thunderstorms Monday raked across a wide area of the South, packing strong winds, rain and some baseball-size hail.
In Mississippi, authorities reported two people were hit on the head by large hail as the enormous storm front crossed the region. Fire official Tim Shanks said baseball-sized hail smashed windows in several vehicles in Clinton, where the two people were hit. He had no immediate word on their condition.
National Weather Service meteorologist Anna Weber said there were reports of hail the size of softballs in some areas around Jackson.
"This is the time of year that we get hail storms, but hail this size is pretty rare," Weber said.
Emergency officials said there were reports of downed trees or other damage in 14 Mississippi counties.
Roads throughout the Jackson area were littered with broken limbs and pine needles, from the hail driving through trees. Cars could be seen driving along the interstate with broken windows and cracked windshields.
"What I found interesting is that hail is the threat that we don't talk about that much," said Mississippi Emergency Management Agency spokesman Jeff Rent.
Glenn Ezell and his son were putting tarps on the metal roof of their mobile home in Brandon after the storm swept through the area.
"It started hailing big enough that it come through the roof and broke the sheetrock. It was as big as your fist," he said.
Georgia Power officials said 73,000 customers were without power Monday night, and of that number, 31,000 were in northwest Georgia.
In neighboring Alabama, the storms knocked out power to more than 200,000 customers.
Etowah County officials said a person had to be removed from a house in Rainbow City after a tree fell onto it. Nearly two dozen trees had toppled onto Alabama Highway 77.
"I think most of it was caused by straight line winds, we just won't know really until tomorrow when the National Weather Service comes and does an assessment," said Gadsden-Etowah County EMA director Mike Bryant.
Bryant said eight people in the Gadsden area and five others in the county were hospitalized Monday night, but he did not know the extent of their injuries.
Meteorologists recorded wind speeds of 80 mph in some areas, and DeKalb County EMA director Anthony Clifton said the roof was ripped from a school in Collinsville, about 15 miles southwest of Fort Payne.
In Tennessee, heavy rain helped firefighters contain a wildfire that burned nearly 60 rental cabins in a resort area outside the Great Smoky Mountains National Park.
The fire forced up to 200 people who had been staying in cabins in the area to evacuate.
Fire officials had worried earlier that wind-whipped flames might jump a ridgeline and threaten Pigeon Forge, a popular tourism destination that's home to country star Dolly Parton's amusement park, Dollywood.