Wake County emergency workers confirmed that a tornado touched down in southwest Raleigh this afternoon shortly about 4 p.m. The center of that storm cell also passed through Sanford, Holly Springs, downtown Raleigh and northeast Wake County, leaving a trail of serious damage.
Fallen trees and flooded streets knocked out power and stopped traffic in parts of West Raleigh, southwest Wake County and northeastern Lee County.
As the storm cell passed through South Raleigh, it left downed power lines and scaffolding in its wake on South Saunders Street.
Cars pulled under overpasses and parked as torrents of rain came down. Emergency workers were on the scene.
Also, two cars were stalled in water up to their windows beneath a rail overpass on Hillsborough Street in West Raleigh.
Firefighters are responding this afternoon to a mixed bag of storm related incidents; downed power lines, power outages, fallen tree limbs and building damage, reported Raleigh fire Lt. Adam Stanley.
"It's really bad," Stanley said.
There have been more than 33,000 power outages reported this afternoon in Wake County, with at least 70,000 throughout the eastern region and parts of Asheville, a Progress Energy spokesman reported.
"We expect those numbers to increase as the storm continues," Scott Sutton, a Progress Energy spokesman said.
Sutton said most of the power outages have been caused by trees falling on power lines.
"Our next biggest one is falling debris," Sutton said. "Or pieces falling and flying and hitting our structures."
During a ballet performance at the Progress Energy Center in downtown Raleigh, officials pulled down metal shutters.
Staff and personnel at WakeMed in Raleigh, southeast of downtown Raleigh moved to safe areas of the hospital as a safety precaution, a hospital spokeswoman said.
Meteorologists at the National Weather Service are looking into reports of tornadoes on the ground in Lee and Chatham counties.
Elsewhere, in Durham, emergency workers report downed power lines and trees at the intersection of Cobb and Duke streets. Trees also were down in the 800 block of Parker Street.
National weather forecasters say fast-moving storms are plowing through the state, producing squalling rains.
The rest of North Carolina is under a tornado watch until 9 p.m., according the National Weather Service in Raleigh. The weather system is classified as "particularly dangerous" because it is a system that caused widespread damage in other southern states.