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US states pelted by hail and heavy rain amid severe weather warning

Big hail and heavy rain has been pelting the Deep South in the US, with schools and churches shut amid warnings from forecasters that severe storms could lead to powerful tornadoes.

Alabama's governor declared a state of emergency because of the threat, resulting in multiple school closures, and schools in South Carolina planned to dismiss classes early.

The Federal Aviation Administration temporarily halted flights to Atlanta's airport because of the storms.

Churches that normally have mid-week dinners or services cancelled activities rather than risk having members out in dangerous weather.

In the east Alabama city of Oxford, convenience store manager Don Copeland was working up the courage to go outside and look at his truck after a storm dumped so much grape-sized hail the ground turned white.

The National Weather Service predicted widespread thunderstorms across much of Alabama and Georgia and into Florida and south-western South Carolina.

Alabama governor 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 will be deployed in the state.

Alabama Power Company reported 5,500 electrical outages state-wide early on Wednesday, a number that could grow through the day.

Schools districts in South Carolina's Columbia area said they would dismiss students as early as 11am and cancelled after-school activities.

In Georgia, National Weather Service meteorologist Laura Belanger said about 75% of the state could experience severe weather beginning at daybreak and see it increase after 2pm. She said affected cities could include Atlanta and Augusta - the site of this week's Masters golf tournament.

Meteorologist John De Block said he expects storms to last into the evening in southern and eastern Alabama. He said tornadoes are likely and there is a strong chance of baseball-size hail, and hail as large as tennis balls was reported in the first wave of storms.

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.

AP

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