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Earl Weakens Again, But Mass. Still on Alert

A massive wave crashes into the fishing pier, Friday, Sept. 3, 2010 in Ocean City, Md., as Hurricane Earl churned off the coast on a path toward New England. The water was closed to all swimmers due to the rough surf, and beach patrol struggled to keeping onlookers far back on the beach. (AP Photo/Salisbury Daily Times, Laura Emmons)
AP Photo/Salisbury Daily Times
Updated 8 p.m. ET

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.

(Scroll down the page to see projections of when high winds will reach the East Coast.)

The Federal Emergency Management Agency announced early Friday evening that President Obama had declared a state of emergency for Massachusetts, releasing federal funds to back the state's hurricane preparation efforts. Massachusetts Gov. Deval Patrick declared a state of emergency Thursday as he urged residents not to panic.

On Friday, many seemed to be following the governor's advice. Traffic was light on both bridges to and from Cape Cod, where the air was still and heavy rains started in the late morning.

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Earl dropped to a Category 1 storm - down from a powerful Category 4 a day earlier - with sustained winds of 75 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.

CBS News Correspondent Elaine Quijano reports that Earl dumped up to 4 1/2 inches of rain in parts of North Carolina's Outer Banks as it brushed past overnight.

CBS News Correspondent Dean Reynolds reports that shelters have been set up in Cape Cod and that Bay Staters in their homes are being urged to stay there as what's left of Earl comes ashore Friday night.

Meanwhile, New Jersey authorities have called off a search for a second victim of rough surf caused by Earl and its predecessor Danielle.

High winds and looming rains forced the Coast Guard around midday Friday to suspend a search for 20-year-old Pardip Singh of Carteret, N.J. State police hope to resume the search by boat if conditions improve later in the day.

Singh entered the ocean Thursday night at Belmar, N.J. with a group of people but did not reappear. His disappearance came on the same day authorities recovered the body of 23-year-old Franky Lezin of Asbury Park, N.J. Lezin drowned after entering the roiling waters Tuesday.

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.

As of 8 p.m. EDT, Earl's center was located about 155 miles south-southwest of Nantucket, Mass., and moving northeast at 23 mph.

Read more from CBS Station WBZ in Boston
on where damage and power outages are likely

Most of the hurricane force winds were expected to remain offshore. 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.

At midmorning Friday, Earl buffeted Virginia with rain and gusts up to 45 mph as it passed farther out to sea.

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.

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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 Chatham, Mass., CBS News national correspondent Dean Reynolds reports the Red Cross was storing up supplies and power company trucks were positioned on Long Island, while on Cape Cod, they were hauling boats from the sea.

Reynolds says people on the Eastern seaboard from Long Island to Cape Cod are waiting to see Earl's direction: Just a small shift in the course could save the people a lot of trouble and money. If it heads east and out to sea, $1 billion in damages might not occur.

In downtown Chatham, a quaint fishing village at Cape Cod's eastern edge, tourists strolled the bookstores, cafes, candy shops and ice cream parlors on Main Street, largely unconcerned about the coming storm.

A handful of 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.

In a parking lot near downtown, five large utility trucks sat waiting and linemen milled about, ready to fix any possible power outages. A handful of people walked on a beach nearby, the waves gently lapping the sand.

In Barnstable, Ellen McDonough, of Boston, and a friend were waiting Friday morning for one of the last ferries to Nantucket before service was stopped around noon. The two had planned a Labor Day weekend getaway to the island and didn't see Earl as a good reason to cancel.

(CBS)

"It's not a three-foot snow storm. I think us New Englanders are tough," McDonough said. "We've had this weekend planned, and no hurricane is going to stop us."

(At left: This graphic shows the probability of tropical storm-force winds hitting the east coast from Hurricane Earl through 3 p.m. Sept. 4, 2010.)

Scott Thomas, president of the Nantucket Island Chamber of Commerce, said island residents were taking the coming storm in stride.

"This is not something that is really unheard of for us, in terms of being prepped for it and being ready to handle something like this," he said. "We kind of roll with the punches out here; it's not a huge deal for us."

Thomas Kinton Jr., executive director of the Massachusetts Port Authority, which runs Logan International Airport in Boston, said he didn't expect major commercial airlines to cancel flights because of Earl. Cape Air, which serves Cape Cod, will be ending its flights at midday Friday, he said.

"The potential impacts to (Logan) airport are lessening as the hurricane gets closer," Kinton said.

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.

In Rhode Island, Gov. Donald Carcieri signed a disaster declaration Thursday, giving emergency workers access to state and federal resources to deal with problems that may be caused by the hurricane. Block Island, a popular Rhode Island tourist destination, was expected to gusts as high as 60 mph.

At Acadia National Park in Maine officials closed most of a road where thousands of visitors gathered last year to watch the swells from Hurricane Bill, and a 20-foot wave swept a 7-year-old girl to her death.

Just off the coast of Maine and New Hampshire, some island residents decided to play it safe and return to the mainland.

Robert Bohlmann, emergency management agency director in York County, Maine, said some homes on the rocky Isles of Shoals belong to fishermen who have no intention of leaving.

"You couldn't get them off the island if you dragged them," Bohlmann said. "It's their homes and they don't want to leave."