A weakened Hurricane Earl howled past North Carolina’s Outer Banks before daybreak Friday on its way up the East Coast, flooding parts of the narrow vacation islands and knocking out power but staying farther offshore than feared. There were no immediate reports of any injuries.
At first light, 1 to 2 feet of water covered roads in the community of Buxton on Cape Hatteras, pushing around plywood, a convenience store ice cooler, a garbage bin and other debris. A Jeep driving down the road had water up to its headlights.
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.”
Earl arrived a less menacing storm than it was just a day earlier. By the time it sideswiped North Carolina, its winds had dropped to 105 mph from 145 mph. And at its closest approach, its center passed about 85 miles east of Cape Hatteras — up to 50 miles farther out than forecasters feared.
“Swiping the coast was always better than coming ashore,” said Mark Van Sciver of the North Carolina Emergency Operations Center. “We’re very grateful that the brunt of the storm passed us by.”
Authorities sent teams out to assess the damage at first light. Some 35,000 visitors and residents on the Outer Banks been urged to leave the dangerously exposed islands at the storm closed in, but hundreds of hardy souls chose to wait it out in their boarded-up homes.
The storm knocked out power to thousands of people along the North Carolina coast, Van Sciver said.
Nancy Scarborough of Hatteras said she had about a foot of water underneath her home, which is on stilts. Wind continued to howl and water appeared to be surging onto land from Pamlico Sound, between the island chain and the mainland. Scarborough hoped it wouldn’t be long before the storm receded.
“Once it goes down, it shouldn’t take long to get things back together,” she said.
As of 8 a.m. EDT, Earl was about 130 miles northeast of Cape Hatteras, moving northeast at 18 mph.
Forecasters expected Earl to remain a large hurricane as it swirled its way up the Eastern Seaboard toward New England by late Friday. Forecasters said it would away from New Jersey and other mid-Atlantic states but pass very close to Long Island, Cape Cod and Nantucket, which could get gusts up to 100 mph.
The storm could have a punishing effect even if its center stayed well off the coast; Earl’s hurricane-force winds of 74 mph or more extended 70 miles from its center, and tropical storm-force winds of at least 39 mph radiated out 205 miles.
During its march up the Atlantic, it could snarl holiday weekend plans, with several flights already canceled and Amtrak service suspended in places.
Forecasters said much of New England should expect strong, gusty winds much like a nor’easter, along with fallen trees and downed power lines.
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.
Massachusetts Gov. Deval Patrick urged people living in low-lying areas prone to flooding to consider leaving their homes by Friday afternoon, though no evacuations had been announced outside of North Carolina. Officials on Nantucket Island, Mass., planned to set up a shelter at a high school on 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.”
Associated Press Writers David Fischer in Miami; Martha Waggoner, Emery Dalesio, Tom Foreman Jr. and Gary Robertson in Raleigh, N.C.; Tom Breen in Morehead City, N.C.; Bruce Smith in Jacksonville, N.C.; Jeffrey Collins in Columbia, S.C.; Mark Pratt in Boston; David Porter in Trenton, N.J.; David Koenig in Dallas; Sara Kugler Frazier in New York; and Frank Eltman in Stony Brook, N.Y., contributed to this report.