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Severe storms, large hail pummel parts of South

Rogelio V. Solis / AP

Golfball sized hail litter the ground by Andrew Stamps and his wife Valorie as they prepare to cover their shattered rear window of her 2009 Toyota Avalon in Pearl, Miss., March 18, following a hailstorm that hit communities throughout central Mississippi.

JACKSON, Miss. — 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. "But you can see how destructive it can be in a short amount of time. We got a tough lesson today."

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.

Millions are under a winter weather advisory as severe storms charge through the South and bring snow to parts of the Great Plains and into the Northeast. Weather Channel meteorologist Eric Fisher reports.

Meteorologists issued tornado warnings for parts of northwest Georgia and severe thunderstorm warnings around the state.

Flights were delayed by more than an hour Monday afternoon at Atlanta's Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport after officials there ordered a ground stop, according to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution.

Downed trees and high winds were also reported in parts of Alabama and Georgia.

Georgia Power officials said 73,000 customers were without power Monday night, and of that number, 31,000 were in northwest Georgia.

Elsewhere, Alabama Power officials said 198,000 customers were without power as of 5 p.m.

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.

Meanwhile snow was moving across much of the Northeast late Monday messing up traffic as it caught many commuters off guard. And Boston announced all public schools would be closed on Tuesday because of the wintry weather — just the day before the official start of spring.

Associated Press writer Phillip Lucas contributed to this report from Atlanta.