NAGS HEAD N.C. (Reuters) - A weakened Hurricane Arthur was aimed at southern New England on Friday, wielding tropical storm-force winds, after an earlier landfall in North Carolina that caused only slight damage.
The summer resort areas of Nantucket and Cape Cod, popular destinations for visitors over the long Fourth of July weekend, were issued tropical storm warnings by the National Weather Service's National Hurricane Center, which predicted powerful winds and several inches of rain.
"It will certainly have some impact for southern New England," said John Cangialosi, an NHC meteorologist. "It's very tricky conditions there for the Fourth."
Arthur was expected to bring rain and winds of tropical storm strength, or 39 to 73 miles per hour (63 to 117 km per hour), to the Massachusetts coast, the center said.
Also set to be pelted with rain but slightly weaker winds was eastern Maine, the NHC said.
The storm was forecast to be near or over the Canadian province of Nova Scotia early on Saturday and expected to weaken to a post-tropical storm system.
The first hurricane of the Atlantic season, Arthur cut power to almost 20,000 homes and businesses, downed trees and cut off barrier islands from the mainland after making landfall on North Carolina's Outer Banks late on Thursday.
State officials said there was minimal damage from the storm, the earliest in the season to hit North Carolina since records began in 1851. A dozen counties were under states of emergency, and the tourist haven of Ocracoke Island was without power.
"This has been a very good day. There have been no casualties or serious injuries reported," North Carolina Governor Pat McCrory said at a news conference in Raleigh.
Arthur hit with top sustained winds of 100 mph (160 kph), earning a Category 2 status on the five-step Saffir-Simpson scale. It weakened to a Category 1 as it moved northeast into colder waters of the Atlantic Ocean with 90-mph (145-kph) top sustained winds.
PICTURES SHAKEN FROM WALLS
McCrory said North Carolina's beaches were open. Thousands of Independence Day beachgoers had left the low-lying Outer Banks ahead of the storm as it disrupted July Fourth festivities and fireworks.
Kathleen O'Neal, owner of Island Artworks on Ocracoke Island, said she could feel her house lift up as the storm passed overhead.
"It was very bad here," she said, adding that many trees had been knocked down and part of a neighbor's roof had been pulled off.
Thousands of tourists were wandering around looking at damage, she said
Hyde County officials on Ocracoke said power could be restored by late Sunday. Meanwhile, a generator on the island was supplying power on a rotating basis.
State officials said ferry service to Ocracoke would resume, with residents and property owners to be let in on Saturday. Only emergency personnel were allowed on incoming ferries on Friday.
McCrory's office said Highway 12, the 50-mile (80-km) road connecting Hatteras Island to the mainland, had been blocked by flooding, downed power poles and sand.
The road was expected to reopen by late Sunday.
Arthur is the first hurricane to hit the United States since Superstorm Sandy devastated parts of New York and New Jersey in October 2012, causing an estimated $70 billion in damage.
(Additional reporting by Gene Cherry in Raleigh, North Carolina; David Adams in Miami, Ian Simpson in Washington, Ted Siefer in New Hampshire, Richard Weizel in Connecticut, and Sandra Maler in Washington; Writing by David Adams, Ian Simpson and Ellen Wulfhorst; Editing by James Dalgleish, Leslie Adler and Lisa Shumaker)