South and Midwest brace for storms

ATLANTA (AP) — Alabama’s governor declared a state of emergency and schools in South Carolina planned to dismiss classes early today ahead of severe thunderstorms expected to move across the Southeast, bringing a threat of tornadoes and hail the size of baseballs.

The National Weather Service predicts widespread thunderstorms across much of Alabama and Georgia and into the Florida Panhandle and southwestern South Carolina.

Gov. Robert Bentley issued the warning effective at 6 p.m. Tuesday and said it would last until the severe weather expected to hit Alabama early today subsides. He said in a news release that 50 National Guard soldiers also will be deployed in the state. Multiple Alabama schools announced they will be closed today.

Schools districts in South Carolina’s Columbia area said they would dismiss students as early as 11 a.m. and canceled after-school activities.

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

Meteorologist John De Block says he expects storms to last into the evening in southern and eastern Alabama. He says tornadoes are likely and there’s a strong chance of baseball-size hail.

School, fire house damaged in Missouri

Authorities in southwest Missouri believe a tornado is responsible for severe damage to several buildings, including a fire station and elementary school.

The small town of Goodman was hit hard by a severe storm Tuesday evening. McDonald County Emergency Management director Gregg Sweeten says it appears a tornado was responsible for damage to the town’s fire station and elementary school. No deaths or serious injuries have been reported.

Sweeten says several homes and businesses in Goodman were damaged.

Minor damage was also reported at the airport in Neosho, another southwest Missouri town.

Goodman is about 30 miles south of Joplin, site of a deadly EF-5 tornado in May 2011.

By Patricia Older

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