Hurricane Earl brushes North Carolina

KITTY HAWK, North Carolina (AFP) – Hurricane Earl bore down on North Carolina early Friday, promising to lash a vast stretch of the US East Coast with tropical storm force winds, heavy rain and dangerous surf.

Coastal residents huddled at home after tens of thousands fled the strongest Atlantic storm of 2010, which was expected to produce major swells along much of the eastern seaboard during the day, send waters surging up to five feet (1.5 meters) and dump up to six inches (15 centimeters) of rain.

Although Earl was earlier downgraded to a category two storm, it was set to bring destructive winds and heavy rains to North Carolina’s coast before moving north, reaching Canada’s Nova Scotia by early Saturday.

Weather watchers said Earl was the most powerful hurricane to threaten the US Northeast and New England since 1991, when Hurricane Bob caused deadly damage.

For vacationers, the forecast track up-ended plans for a final few care-free days at the beach before the end of summer for the Labor Day holiday weekend that draws millions to East Coast beaches.

At 2:00 am (0600 GMT), the US National Hurricane Center (NHC) said the storm’s sustained winds had dipped to near 105 miles (170 kilometers) per hour, but warned it was still a major hurricane expected to pass near North Carolina’s Outer Banks, skimming Massachusetts by the evening.

The huge storm several hundred miles across was heading north at around 18 miles (30 km) per hour. It was located about 85 miles (140 km) east-southeast of Cape Hatteras in the Outer Banks — a narrow band of North Carolina barrier islands.

With the Miami-based center predicting hurricane strength winds as far as 70 miles (110 km) from the eye of the storm, coastal North Carolina residents were battening down and tourists were scattering inland.

“It’s a serious storm, and we need to treat it like a serious storm,” said North Carolina Governor Beverly Perdue.

“This is a day of action,” warned Craig Fugate, chief of the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA).

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