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updated 9/4/2010 2:48:26 AM ET 2010-09-04T06:48:26

Earl weakened to a tropical storm as it brushed Cap Cod and Nantucket with pelting rain, strong gusts and pounding surf early Saturday as steamed past New England, disrupting people's vacations on the unofficial final weekend of the short New England summer.

Packing winds of just 70 mph, the storm swirled up the Eastern Seaboard after sideswiping North Carolina's Outer Banks, where it caused flooding but no injuries and little damage. For the most part, it was expected to swing wide of New York City and Long Island, and much of the rest of the mid-Atlantic region, but pass close by Cape Cod, Nantucket Island and Martha's Vineyard late Friday night, bringing rain and high winds.

Winds on Nantucket, closest to the storm's center, blew around 30 mph, with gusts above 40 mph. The island got about 1.5 inches of rain through 11 p.m. ET, with more expected. Flooding of low-lying areas was expected and damage from tropical storm-force winds was still possible, officials said.

The well-to-do resort island and old-time whaling port briefly saw some localized flooding, but it was typical of summer storms and had cleared within hours, Nantucket Assistant Town Manager Gregg Tivnan said. There were no evacuations, power outages or even reports of trees down, he said.

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"The south side of the island certainly did take a hit. We'll assess the damage and the erosion to the beach tomorrow, but so far don't have any report of major damage," Tivnan said late Friday.

On Cape Cod, the storm roared across Chatham's Lighthouse Beach while leaving Hyannis with a steady rain and flat harbor, The Boston Globe reported.

Earlier in the day vacationers pulled their boats from the water and canceled Labor Day weekend reservations on Nantucket, the well-to-do resort island and old-time whaling port. Shopkeepers boarded up their windows. Swimmers in New England were warned to stay out of the water — or off the beach altogether — because of the danger of getting swept away by high waves.

Airlines canceled dozens of flights into New England, and Amtrak suspended train service between New York and Boston.

As of Friday afternoon, no large-scale evacuations were ordered for the Cape Cod area, where fishermen and other hardy year-round residents have been dealing with gusty nor'easters for generations.

"We kind of roll with the punches out here. It's not a huge deal for us," said Scott Thomas, president of the Nantucket Chamber of Commerce.

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At 2 a.m. ET Saturday, Earl was a tropical storm, down from a fearsome Category 4 hurricane with 145 mph winds a day earlier, the National Hurricane Center said. Earl's winds were down from 85 mph earlier in the day. Its center was located about 105 miles east-southeast of Nantucket and moving northeast at 30 mph.

As Earl lost steam and veered farther east, the National Hurricane Center reduced the New England areas under a hurricane warning to tropical storm warnings for Cape Cod, Nantucket and Martha's Vineyard, the elite vacation spot that President Barack Obama left just last weekend. Earl was still forecast to leave one to three inches of rain in eastern new England and bring rain and strong winds to portions of Nova Scotia on Saturday afternoon.

The last time the Cape was hit directly by a hurricane was 1991, when Bob brought 75 mph gusts that ripped through the region's grassy dunes, snapped trees and tore roofs off the weathered gray homes.

Few seemed worried about a repeat Friday in Chatham, a fishing village at Cape Cod's eastern edge where tourists strolled past the bookstores, cafes and ice cream parlors on Main Street. A few stores had put plywood over their windows, including the Ben Franklin Old Fashioned Variety Store. "C'mon Earl, we're ready for you," a handwritten note read.

Earl was expected to remain more than 150 miles off New Jersey and the eastern tip of New York's Long Island as it made its way north. But it kicked up dangerous riptides up and down the coast. In New Jersey, two young men apparently died earlier this week in the rough surf caused by Earl and the hurricane before it, Danielle.

Rain from Earl's outer bands forced a 25-minute delay at the U.S. Open tennis tournament in New York City.

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North Carolina mops up
On the Outer Banks, officials had urged tens of thousands of visitors and residents to leave the dangerously exposed islands as the storm closed in, but hundreds chose to wait it out in their boarded-up homes.

Earl's winds had dropped to 105 mph by the time the storm brushed past the ribbon of islands before dawn, and the storm center got no closer to shore than 85 miles. Hurricane-force winds, which start at 74 mph, apparently did not even reach the Outer Banks, said the National Hurricane Center's chief forecaster, James Franklin.

North Carolina Gov. Beverly Perdue her state "dodged a bullet" as the storm weakened overnight.

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Noting no serious damage, she urged people to get back out for the Labor Day weekend to "have a little fun and spend some money."

Nancy Scarborough of Cape 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.

Northeast preps for worst
In Rhode Island, the popular tourist destination Block Island was expecting gusts as high as 60 mph. Gov. Don Carcieri warned of possible flooding on the mainland, and asked people to stay off the roads, but added: "Everything looks like we've dodged this."

Twenty miles out off the Maine coast, lobstermen on Matinicus Island were cautious after getting fooled by Hurricane Bill, which missed the mainland last year but sent tides and rough seas that destroyed their gear. This time, they moved their gear to the safety of deeper water or pulled their traps out altogether.

At Maine's Acadia National Park, officials closed most of a road where a 7-year-old girl was swept to her death by a 20-foot wave last year while watching the swells from Bill.

"I am happy it got downgraded but it's better to be prepared," said Taylor Evangelista, 28, manager of the Soft as a Grape gift shop, which had boarded up its windows and hung a sign that read "Customers Welcome, Earl Go Away."

The storm was hurting business heading into the weekend when the United States celebrates Labor Day, typically considered the end of the summer vacation period.

Slideshow: Eastern Seaboard endures Earl (on this page)

"This is the last big weekend," Evangelista said, adding that she hoped people would return on Saturday, after the storm had passed.

Business owners in nearby Hyannis, close to the Kennedy family's famous waterfront compound in Hyannis Port, cited similar worries.

"I'm concerned about my windows," Betsy Young, 48, said outside her Soho Arts Company shop.

She said this weekend was usually the last busy weekend of the year for area retailers. "I'm going to lose Friday and probably most of Saturday," preparing for and the cleaning up after the storm, she said.

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"I was here for Hurricane Bob. That was pretty serious, this one is supposed to be a lot smaller," said Tom Huckman, 46, of Harwich.

Some vacationers were hoping to salvage their holiday weekends after Earl passed.

"I was toying with the idea of taking my boat out (of the water), but I decided to ride it out. It's not going to be that long a storm," said Scott Briley, 44, of North Andover, Mass.

As oil refineries, drilling platforms and nuclear power plants along the Atlantic coast monitored Earl's path, EnCana Corp said it suspended drilling and pulled personnel from a Nova Scotia rig in Canada.

Imperial Oil Ltd shut down its Dartmouth, Nova Scotia, refinery as a precaution.

Exxon Mobil said it had pulled nonessential staff from its Sable field in offshore Nova Scotia.

In Nova Scotia, where Earl is due to make landfall early on Saturday, residents stocked up on emergency supplies.

Behind Earl, Tropical Storm Fiona weakened as it moved north over the open Atlantic toward Bermuda. It had top sustained winds of 45 mph and was expected to weaken further as it passed near the British territory on Saturday.

The Associated Press and Reuters contributed to this report.

Video: Weakening Earl sideswipes East Coast

  1. Closed captioning of: Weakening Earl sideswipes East Coast

    >>> good evening. last night at this time it was the biggest storm on the planet, but in a fortunate and welcome turn of events, the hurricane named earl, once a raging and grinding category four, is tonight barely a category one. it took its time but now it's making all the right turns. and a lot of people owe a huge debt of thanks to the air that came rushing across the country to shred the storm and to push the storm out to the east on the friday before labor day weekend . while, sadly, parts of new york -- you see it there -- and new england are still in for a storm , it is nothing close to what it almost was. we want to begin our coverage tonight where the storm is. peter alexander in montauk at the tip of new york 's long island. peter, good evening.

    >> reporter: brian, good evening to you. there are more battering waves hitting this coast tonight, but be clear. there is also great relief here that this storm has largely stayed out at sea. still, by the end of today, 13 states will have felt the impact of earl. like an unwelcome guest overnight along north carolina 's outer banks , hurricane earl crashed the start of the labor day weekend . al roker witnessed its arrival.

    >> right now, we're getting the worst of these feeder bands and i've got -- oh, my gosh. the winds are really whipping.

    >> reporter: punishing winds and rain pounded the coast. the weather channel 's jim cantore was in cape hatteras .

    >> as you can see, we are still taking it on the chin. this water is compliments of pamlico sound and it continues to push up with these strong northerly winds.

    >> reporter: dawn revealed roads that looked like rivers and a beach full of tires that were submerged for decades as an artificial reef . but because earl's strongest winds never reached shore, damage was remarkably limited. with no reports of major injury and only scattered power outages. by midday, earl had weakened to a category one storm , but remained dangerous. on the jersey shore , a 20-year-old man is presumed dead after he disappeared while swimming thursday night. those powerful waves are still hammering away at long island, new york .

    >> obviously the surf has come up a lot. there is definitely a riptide out there. we're starting to see a lot of beach erosion .

    >> reporter: but they are perfect conditions for the fearless. how have the waves been?

    >> they have been fantastic. really fantastic. can't complain.

    >> reporter: good memories of earl?

    >> definitely. definitely. he's a good friend.

    >> reporter: now awaiting its turn, cape cod .

    >> everybody's frantic. everybody's got to get the medicine. they've got to get batteries. they wiped us out of just about everything.

    >> reporter: still, ben ferrucci, vacationing with his two daughters, has faith this holiday will be spared.

    >> talked to the locals. they haven't got hit in 20 years around here. something about the cape. maybe we're lucky. when it gets close it likes to drift out to sea. hopefully it's not going to be any different this year.

    >> reporter: earl is also already causing problems for weekend travelers, brian. amtrak suspended train service between new york and boston until tomorrow morning.

    >> all right, peter alexander on

Photos: Hurricane Earl

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  1. A city worker pulls back after cutting a section of a downed tree in Halifax, Nova Scotia, on Saturday, Sept. 4. after Tropical Storm Earl had moved through the province. (Paul Darrow / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  2. Waves from hurricane Earl pound the coast at Peggys Cove, Nova Scotia, on Sept. 4. Police closed roads leading to the iconic lighthouse as a safety precaution, keeping the curious away from the dangerous rocks. Heavy rain, high winds and surf battered the region. (Andrew Vaughan / The Canadian Press via AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  3. From left in the canoe, Lexi Olson, 12, Petunia the pug, Corey Olsen, 9, and Amber Racette, 13, and in the water, Bennett Hartley, 7, and sister Ella, all of Brewster, Mass., enjoy what the neighborhood jokingly calls "Lake Leona" after Leona Terrace was flooded by Tropical Storm Earl in Brewster, Mass., on Cape Cod, Sept. 4. According to residents, the road frequently floods during major storms, but this is the highest they've seen it. (Julia Cumes / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  4. Traffic backs up on the Bonner Bridge near Nags Head, N.C., on Sept. 4, as people return to Hatteras Island following mandatory evacuations of the barrier island for Hurricane Earl. (Gerry Broome / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  5. Local resident Russell Lowe kayaks along a beach road during Hurricane Earl in Nags Head, North Carolina Friday, Sept. 3. (Richard Clement / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  6. A metal roof is seen on the ground after winds from Hurricane Earl passed through overnight in Nags Head, N.C., Friday. (Gerry Broome / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  7. Utilities workers try to support power lines that were blown sideways from winds produced by Hurricane Earl in Nags Head, N.C., Friday. (Gerry Broome / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  8. People including Ben Sharp, second from left, of Lewes, Del., watch weather from Hurricane Earl start to move into Rehoboth Beach, Del. on Friday. (Jacquelyn Martin / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  9. R.V. Hodge removes sandbags from a storefront in Beaufort, N.C., as residents return to business as usual after Hurricane Earl brushed past the North Carolina coast Friday. (Chuck Burton / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  10. A man uses an umbrella while riding his bike as Hurricane Earl churns up the coast in Virginia Beach, Va., on Friday, Sept. 3. (Evan Vucci / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  11. The surf pounds the Oceana Pier as Hurricane Earl heads toward the eastern coast in Atlantic Beach, N.C., Thursday, Sept. 2. (Chuck Burton / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  12. A photo of Hurricane Earl's eye taken from the HDVis camera on the underside of NASA's unmanned Global Hawk aircraft. Global Hawk captured this photo from an altitude of 60,000 ft. on Thursday morning. The Global Hawk is one of three aircraft involved in the Genesis and Rapid Intensification Processes (GRIP) experiment to better understand how tropical storms form and develop into major hurricanes. (NOAA / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  13. Town workers, from right, Jose Pineda, Travis Thompson, and Cager Jones, install barriers on the boardwalk as the storm heads toward the eastern coast in Atlantic Beach, N.C., Thursday. (Chuck Burton / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  14. This Thursday image shows Hurricane Earl closing in on a large part of the Eastern Seabord on Thursday. The strongest Atlantic storm of 2010 is on course to hit the coast of North Carolina and then move north. (NOAA via AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  15. Vehicles sit in traffic on the Croatan Highway near Southern Shores, N.C. as people evacuate the Outer Banks area on Thursday. Authorities issued a mandatory evacuation notice as forecasters expect Earl to pass through the area late Thursday night, into Friday morning. (Mark Wilson / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  16. Tina McGory of Columbia, S.C. loads up her car Thursday to leave her rented Kitty Hawk, N.C. beach house early due to the approaching storm. (Mark Wilson / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  17. In Kitty Hawk Thursday, this front end loader dumps sand on the beach to help prevent inland flooding. (Mark Wilson / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  18. A surfer enjoys the increasing size of the waves as Hurricane Earl approaches the Outer Banks city of Kill Devil Hills, N.C. on Wednesday. The hurricane is expected to work its way up the Eastern seaboard. (Paul J. Richards / AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  19. A sign that reads "Go away Earl" outside a hotel is seen as the sun sets in Buxton on Wednesday. (Chuck Liddy / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  20. Residents boarded up beach homes, like these in Hatteras, all along the Outer Banks on Wednesday. (Gerry Broome / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  21. A boat is battered by waves in Sopers Hole during the passage of Hurricane Earl near Tortola, British Virgin Islands on Monday, Aug. 30. The hurricane was expected to remain over the open ocean before turning north and running parallel to the U.S. coast, potentially reaching the North Carolina coastal region by late Thursday or early Friday. (Todd Vansickle / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  22. Astronaut Douglas Wheelock photographed Hurricane Earl aboard the International Space Station on Tuesday. Wheelock has been posting photos of the season's Atlantic storms on Twitter. (Douglas H. Wheelcock / NASA) Back to slideshow navigation
  23. Luis Colon uses an umbrella to shield himself from rain and wind caused by the approaching Hurricane Earl in San Juan, Puerto Rico on Monday. The storm battered some islands across the northeastern Caribbean with heavy rain and roof-ripping winds Monday. (Andres Leighton / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  24. Meteorologist Jessica Schauer works on tracking Hurricane Earl at the National Hurricane Center in Miami, Fla. on Monday. (Joe Raedle / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  25. A boy takes cover from a wave caused by the approaching storm in Fajardo, Puerto Rico on Monday. (Ricardo Arduengo / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  26. Heavy rains caused a nearby river to overflow, flooding this house in Potters Village, on the outskirts of St. John's, Antigua on Monday. (Johnny Jno-baptiste / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  27. Army soldiers help to remove a fallen tree at the village of Liberta Monday after Hurricane Earl passed near Antigua. (Johnny Jno-baptiste / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
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