NAGS HEAD, N.C. – Tropical Storm Ophelia (search) was weakening and moving off the North Carolina coast Friday after a three-day drenching that was far less severe than many had anticipated. But tropical storm warnings were posted in New England.
An evacuation order for Hatteras Island (search) was lifted early Friday, allowing residents to return, Dare County officials said.
Coastal residents to the south, where the storm's gusty wind ripped apart businesses and damaged homes, were hit hardest.
"It just beat us and beat us and beat us," said Laurie Garner, whose boyfriend's restaurant was severely damaged at Salter Path (search) on Bogue Banks, south of the Outer Banks.
By late morning, the National Hurricane Center discontinued tropical storm warnings for North Carolina, and posted new warnings for eastern New England.
North Carolina Gov. Mike Easley said gauging the scope of the damage was difficult because of the storm's slow path, first affecting the state's southeastern coast on Tuesday and then crawling north and east Wednesday and Thursday.
"It's almost like working three different storms," Easley said.
Ophelia, which had been a hurricane, was weakening Friday, and its sustained winds dropped to 60 mph, the hurricane center said.
More than 9,600 homes and businesses remained without power in eastern North Carolina, utilities said, down from a high of more than 200,000. But the mainland has not seen the severe flooding many feared.
"I've been coming down here for 25 years — this is nothing," said Tim Kifer, 51, of Chicago, who stopped by a marina in Manteo to check out the waters of Roanoke Sound.
The storm was blamed for one traffic death. Earlier, a surfer disappeared in rough water off the coast of South Carolina.
Ophelia, which had meandered north since forming off the Florida coast last week, was moving north-northeast at about 8 mph, the hurricane center said. At 11 a.m. EDT, Ophelia was centered about 450 miles south-southwest of Nantucket island.
A tropical storm warning was posted Friday for Rhode Island's coast and southeastern Massachusetts, including Nantucket and Martha's Vineyard. The warning means tropical-storm force winds of 39 mph or higher were expected within 24 hours.
Ophelia was expected to pass southeast of Nantucket, but forecasters watched for a possible turn northward, which could bring more severe affects to Massachusetts.
"These things are extremely difficult to forecast, and Ophelia has been a pain in the neck from the beginning," said Mike Jackson, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service.
Officials were on standby to respond to the Cape area, ordered coastal campgrounds cleared in anticipation of minor flooding, said James Mannion, a spokesman for the Massachusetts Emergency Management Agency.
In North Carolina, some decided to take advantage of the churning surf to have a little fun.
David Goddard, 58, of Ashburn, Va., stood on the beach in Nags Head, watching his 32-year-old son, Josh, wade into the foamy water up to his calves.
"He's fearless," Goddard said with a grin.
On the Outer Banks, Dare County officials said Hatteras Island reported gusts to 95 mph. Other than power outages, the island was in pretty good shape, said county spokeswoman Sharon Sullivan.
Ophelia is the 15th named storm and seventh named hurricane of this year's busy Atlantic season, which ends Nov. 30.