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Weakened Earl Still Powerful as It Hugs Coast

KILL DEVIL HILLS, NC - SEPTEMBER 02: People watch as heavy surf from approaching Hurricane Earl hits the Avalon Fishing Pier, on September 2, 2010 in Kill Devil Hills, North Carolina. A hurricane warning has been issued for most of the North Carolina coastline due to the approaching Category 3 Hurricane Earl that is expected to pass the Outer Banks of North Carolina late tonight and into the morning. (Photo by Mark Wilson/Getty Images)
Getty Images/Mark Wilson
Last Updated 8:00 a.m. ET

North Carolina's governor said the state's Outer Banks appears to have avoided serious damage or injuries as Hurricane Earl blew past.

The last ferry left for the mainland and coastal residents hunkered down at home as Earl closed in with 105 mph winds early Friday on North Carolina's dangerously exposed Outer Banks, the first and perhaps most destructive stop on the storm's projected journey up the Eastern Seaboard.

In Kill Devil Hills, N.C., CBS News correspondent Kelly Cobiella reports Hurricane Earl brought very strong, gusty winds that have been driving rain sideways, since making landfall about 2 a.m.

Earl's winds were slowing, from 140 mph early Thursday, but still at Category 2 strength.

At 8:00 a.m. ET, Hurricane Earl was moving toward the north-northeast at nearly 18 mph. An increase in forward speed is expected as it turns to the northeast in the 12-24 hours.

Maximum sustained winds are near 105 mph, with higher gusts, extending outward up to 70 miles.

Though weakening, Earl is expected to remain at hurricane strength as it approaches southeastern New England.

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

Photos: Earl Descends on East Coast
CBS News 2010 Storm Tracker
Reports from N.C., Mass. and N.Y.: East Coast Braces
Hurricane's Path Unfamiliar to U.S. Northeast

N.C. Gov. Beverly Perdue said Friday that reports from the barrier islands brushed by Earl overnight offered nothing but good news by daybreak.

She said survey teams would fan out to check whether erosion from the waves churned up by the storm caused any property damage between the Oregon Inlet and the Virginia border. Communities there include Kitty Hawk, Corolla and Duck.

Perdue said about 5,000 people took refuge in inland shelters.

National Weather Service meteorologist Chris Collins said early Friday that Earl had produced little storm surge and only minor flooding in some coastal counties. Predictions of storm surges between 2 and 4 feet may be generous, he said.

The Coast Guard planned an airplane flyover of the Outer Banks and were prepared for search-and-rescue helicopter flights.

Collins said the eye of the hurricane was expected to get about 100 miles east of the Outer Banks. Earlier, forecasters said it would get as close as 55 miles and protected the coast would be lashed by hurricane-force winds with a storm surge of up to 5 feet and waves 18 feet high.

"It's probably going to get a little hairy. We're prepared for it. My biggest concern is the ocean, not the wind," said Karen Denson Miller, who decided to stay on Hatteras Island with friends. The storm early Friday was about 85 miles east-southeast of Cape Hatteras.

Earl's arrival could mark the start of at least 24 hours of stormy, windy weather along the East Coast. During its march up the Atlantic, it could snarl travelers' Labor Day weekend plans and strike a second forceful blow to the vacation homes and cottages on Long Island, Nantucket Island and Cape Cod. Forecast models showed the most likely place Earl will make landfall is on Saturday in western Nova Scotia, Canada, where it could still be a hurricane, said hurricane center deputy director Ed Rappaport.

The emergency management chief for one coastal North Carolina county said that high tide and the storm combined to wash over a portion of the Outer Banks highway N.C. 12 near Rodanthe. Dare County Emergency Management Director Sandy Sanderson said it was closed, but that the overwash was expected and nobody was out driving in the storm, anyway.

Shelters were open in inland North Carolina, and officials on Nantucket Island, Mass., planned to set up a shelter at a high school on Friday. North Carolina shut down ferry service between the Outer Banks and the mainland. Boats were being pulled from the water in the Northeast, and lobstermen in Maine set their traps out in deeper water to protect them.

Massachusetts Gov. Deval Patrick and Rhode Island Gov. Donald Carcieri declared a state of emergency. Similar declarations have also been made in North Carolina, Virginia and Maryland.

The only evacuations ordered were on the Outer Banks, which sticks out into the Atlantic Ocean like the side-view mirror on a car, vulnerable to a sideswiping. About 35,000 tourists and residents were urged to leave.

A slow winding down was expected to continue as the storm moved into cooler waters, but forecasters warned the size of the storm's wind field was increasing, similar to what happened when Hurricane Katrina approached the Gulf Coast five years ago.

"It will be bigger. The storm won't be as strong, but they spread out as they go north and the rain will be spreading from New England," National Hurricane Center Director Bill Read said.

In North Carolina, the end of an already dilapidated wooden pier in Frisco, one of the villages on Hatteras Island, collapsed after being battered by high surf Thursday. It had been closed to the public because of past storm damage.

Hundreds of the Outer Banks' more hardy residents gassed up their generators and planned to hunker down at home behind their boarded-up windows, even though officials warned them that it could be three days before they could expect any help. It took crews two months to fill the breach and rebuild the only road to the mainland when Hurricane Isabel carved a 2,000-foot-wide channel in 2003.

"It's kind of nerve-racking, but I've been through this before," said 65-year-old Herma De Gier, who has lived in the village of Avon since 1984.Officials warned once the winds began to pick up, police, firefighters and paramedics probably weren't going to answer emergency calls.

"Once this storm comes in and becomes serious, once it's at its worst point, we are not going to put any emergency worker in harm's way," North Carolina Gov. Beverly Perdue said.

Forecasters said that after Earl passes the Outer Banks, a kink in the jetstream over the eastern U.S. should push the storm away from the coast, guiding it like a marble in a groove.

Earl is expected to move north-northeast for much of Friday, staying away from New Jersey and the other mid-Atlantic states, but also passing very close to Long Island, Cape Cod and Nantucket, which could get gusts up to 100 mph.

Much of New England should expect strong, gusty winds much like a nor'easter, along with fallen trees and downed power lines, forecasters said.

"This is the strongest hurricane to threaten the Northeast and New England since Hurricane Bob in 1991," said Dennis Feltgen, a meteorologist with the National Hurricane Center.

On the coast at Ocean City, Md., "Early Show" weather anchor Dave Price reports winds picking up, with waves 9 to 10 feet, and expected to grow to 17 feet along the coastline.

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.

Clayton Smith and his colleagues at a yacht servicing company in New England scrambled to Nantucket to pull boats to safety, hoping to get about 40 vessels out of the water in two days.

"Complacency is a bad thing," Smith said. "It's better to be safe than sorry."

But many people in Nantucket weren't too worried about Earl. Arno's Main Street Grill plans to stay open Friday as long as possible said owner Chris Morris. The hurricane might even be good for business.

"There's not much else to do during a hurricane besides eat and drink," he said. "I mean, there's only so many times you can visit the whaling museum."

The storm is likely to disrupt travel as people try to squeeze in a few more days of summer vacation over Labor Day. Continental Airlines canceled 50 departures from Newark on its Continental Connection and Continental Express routes along the East Coast, beginning Thursday night. Other airlines were watching the forecast and waiving fees for changing flights. Amtrak canceled trains to Newport News, near Virginia's coast, from Richmond, Va., and Washington. Ferry operators across the Northeast warned their service would likely be interrupted.

And the Army Corps of Engineers warned it would have to close the two bridges connecting Cape Cod to the rest of Massachusetts if winds got above 70 mph.

(CBS)

(Below 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.)