Earl Heads for New England

CHATHAM, Mass. – A weakening Hurricane Earl swiped past North Carolina on Friday on its way to New England, where officials warned residents that it still packed dangerous winds that could topple trees or damage the area’s picturesque gray-shingled cottages.

Earl dropped to a Category 1 storm — down from a powerful Category 4 a day earlier — with sustained winds of 85 mph. The storm could weaken to a tropical storm by the time it passes about 50 to 75 miles southeast of Nantucket on Friday night, said National Hurricane Center Director Bill Read.

“The good news on Earl is it has been steadily weakening, maybe even a little quicker than forecast,” Read said.

Nantucket police chief William Pittman warned island residents against complacency, saying Earl was “still a dangerous storm” with severe winds that could be stronger than those carried by the gusty nor’easters the island is used to absorbing.

The National Hurricane Center reduced the New England areas under a hurricane warning to just Cape Cod and the islands. The rest of the New England coast remained under tropical storm warnings and watches.

The National Weather Service was forecasting winds up to 65 mph on Nantucket with gusts up to 85 mph. On Cape Cod, winds up to 45 mph with gusts of up to 60 mph were expected.

Earl sideswiped North Carolina’s Outer Banks early Friday, flooding the vacation islands but causing no injuries and little damage. The storm’s winds had dropped by then to 105 mph from 145 mph a day before.

Hurricane-force winds, which start at 74 mph, apparently did not reach the Outer Banks, said the National Hurricane Center’s chief forecaster, James Franklin. Officials had urged some 35,000 visitors and residents on the Outer Banks to leave the dangerously exposed islands as the storm closed in, but hundreds chose to wait it out in their boarded-up homes.

Nancy Scarborough of Hatteras said she had about a foot of water underneath her home, which is on stilts. “Once it goes down, it shouldn’t take long to get things back together,” she said.

In Massachusetts, Gov. Deval Patrick declared a state of emergency Thursday as he urged residents not to panic.

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