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Earl Weakens But Still Packs Punch As It Heads North

People stand on the Avalon Fishing Pier watching the heavy surf from Hurricane Earl in Kill Devil Hills, N.C.
Mark Wilson
Getty Images
People stand on the Avalon Fishing Pier watching the heavy surf from Hurricane Earl in Kill Devil Hills, N.C.

Earl is weakening on its way toward New England, and the once powerful hurricane is now a tropical storm. Forecasters at the National Hurricane Center in Miami said the storm is still expected to bring strong winds and rain to portions of New England.

Earl was expected to pass offshore of Cape Cod overnight and reach the coast of Nova Scotia on Saturday.

The hurricane center said that most of Earl's strongest winds were expected to stay offshore of Cape Cod late Friday.

Tropical storm warnings were issued for Long Island, N.Y., and as far north as Nova Scotia and Prince Edward Island in Canada.

As of 10:50 p.m. EDT, Earl's top sustained winds were down to 70 mph.

Nantucket is seeing rough surf and winds gusts of 31 mph. The storm is expected to pass closest to Cape Cod and the island overnight.

Earlier, the North Carolina coast appeared to be relatively unscathed, though federal, state and local authorities were still assessing possible damage and the Coast Guard was geared up to fly over the exposed barrier islands to direct search-and-rescue helicopter flights if necessary.

Hurricane-force winds, which start at 74 mph, apparently did not reach the Outer Banks, said James Franklin, the hurricane center's chief forecaster. Large swells from Earl are expected to stir up dangerous surf and rip currents along the East Coast, even from far out at sea.

Dare County Emergency Management Director Sandy Sanderson said ocean waves washed over a closed portion of the Outer Banks' N.C. Highway 12 near Rodanthe. She said the overwash was expected and that nobody was out driving in the storm anyway.

Winds buffeted Dare County, and thousands of homes were without electricity, NPR's Greg Allen reported from Virginia Beach, Va.

"The word today is for everyone to stay inside and off the beach, but I am seeing people on the beaches here … already, and people in [nearby] Hatteras and the Outer Banks were out until very late last night," Allen said.

This is the strongest hurricane to threaten the Northeast and New England since Hurricane Bob in 1991.

In Nags Heads — closest to the storm's center as it passed overnight Thursday — NPR's Jon Hamilton said large breakers were still pounding the beaches but that the winds had diminished. He said several hundred power outages were reported and that there was some evidence of moderate flooding and damage: blown-down signs, gutters ripped from houses and litter on the roads.

"But people are returning to their homes and prying the plywood off East-facing windows. Also, some businesses are re-opening," Hamilton said.

National Weather Service meteorologist Chris Collins said Earl had produced little storm surge and only minor flooding in some coastal counties. Predictions of storm surges between 2 and 4 feet may have been an overestimate, he said.

North Carolina Gov. Beverly Perdue said there was no serious damage and urged people to get back out for the Labor Day weekend to "have a little fun and spend some money."

Mandatory evacuation orders were issued Thursday for residents and some 35,000 Labor Day vacationers on the Outer Banks.

Sherry Strobe, a resident of New Jersey, who was visiting the town of Southern Shores with her family on a weeklong vacation, said she got a knock on the door Thursday and was asked by a fireman to leave the area.

"We just loaded up our stuff that we brought and cleaned the [beach] house and off we went," she told NPR.

Officials in southeastern North Carolina were urging residents and vacationers to avoid the surf for another day to guard against being swept away by dangerous rip currents. New Hanover County Emergency Management Director Warren Lee said it can take 12 to 24 hours for rip currents to subside after a storm, so beach goers should wait to dive back in.

"Every time someone takes that chance and goes into the surf, they're also risking the life of a rescuer who may have to come and get them," Lee said.

FEMA had prepared for the worst, stocking water and prepared meals in staging areas near the North Carolina and Massachusetts coasts. Supplies included 400,000 liters of water and 300,000 meals shipped to Fort Bragg, N.C., and 162,000 liters of water and more than 213,000 meals stored in Westover, Mass.

A kink in the jet stream over the eastern U.S. should keep Earl away from the coast as it passes New Jersey and the other Middle Atlantic states, meteorologists said. But the storm was still tracking close to Long Island, Cape Cod and Nantucket, which could get gusts up to 100 mph.

"This is the strongest hurricane to threaten the Northeast and New England since Hurricane Bob in 1991," said Dennis Feltgen, a meteorologist with the National Hurricane Center.

Much of New England should expect strong, gusty winds much like a nor'easter, along with felled trees and downed power lines, forecasters said.

Governors in Massachusetts and Rhode Island declared states of emergency, joining North Carolina, Virginia and Maryland.

Massachusetts Gov. Deval Patrick urged people living in low-lying areas prone to flooding to consider leaving their homes by Friday afternoon, although no official evacuations had been announced outside of North Carolina. Officials on Nantucket Island, Mass., planned to set up a shelter at a high school Friday.

"We're asking everyone: Don't panic," Patrick said. "We have prepared well, we are coordinated well, and I'm confident that we've done everything that we can."

Cape Cod residents appeared to be heeding the advice. On Friday, many markets and local stores still had plenty of water available, though batteries were hard to come by.

Donna Brown was up early shopping for supplies, including lobster, something she said can be cooked in advance of expected power outages.

"I'm actually not sure what to think about the storm. I've heard so many things," she told NPR. "I keep trying to check the weather channel and other things, but it seems like it's going to be pretty harsh."

In New York City, officials were on alert but said they expected to see only side effects of the storm — mostly rain and high winds, with possible soil erosion on the beaches and flooding along the oceanside coasts of Brooklyn and Queens.

With reporting from member station WHQR's Michelle Bliss in Wilmington, N.C., and North Carolina Public Radio's Jessica Jones in Plymouth, N.C., WCAI's Sean Corcoran on Cape Cod, Mass., and material from The Associated Press.

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