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Earl Weakens, Bears Down on New England

Tropical Storm Earl dumped wind-driven rain on Cape Cod's gray-shingled cottages and fishing villages Friday night, but its close brush with the Northeast was less intense than feared only hours earlier.

Earl swooped into New England waters as a tropical storm with winds of 70 mph after sideswiping North Carolina's Outer Banks, where it caused flooding but no injuries and little damage.

The storm's approach disrupted vacations on the unofficial final weekend of the summer, but the swirling rain it brought to Cape Cod, Nantucket Island and Martha's Vineyard on Friday was typical of the nor'easters that residents have been dealing with for generations.

Winds on Nantucket, closest to the storm's center, were blowing at around 30 mph, with gusts above 40 mph. The island got about 1.5 inches of rain through 11 p.m., 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.

"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.

In the hours and days before the storm, vacationers had pulled their boats from the water and canceled Labor Day weekend reservations on Nantucket. 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.

The storm was expected to pass about 50 to 75 miles southeast of Nantucket after midnight Friday. It had accelerated throughout the afternoon and evening and, National Weather Service meteorologist Rebecca Gould said, was expected to "fly by Nantucket."

The storm weakened faster than predicted and would continue to diminish, Gould said. "We may still see some wind damage on the outer Cape and Nantucket, but it's not going to be substantial by any means," she said.

President Obama declared a state of emergency in Massachusetts before Earl's arrival, authorizing the Department of Homeland Security and the Federal Emergency Management Agency to coordinate disaster relief efforts. Local officials were preparing for the worst.

"We are going to get a hurricane," Massachusetts Gov. Deval Patrick told MyFoxBoston.com. "People should exercise caution."

Patrick urged people living in low-lying areas prone to flooding to consider leaving their homes by Friday afternoon, though no mandatory evacuations had been announced outside of North Carolina.

Water levels could rise by as much as 1 to 3 feet above ground level from New Jersey to Cape Cod, the National Weather Service said. 

Citing the threat of high waves and dangerous rip tides, officials in Massachusetts closed its beaches. Cape Cod ferries to and from Nantucket were suspended, and the region's Army Corps of Engineers told Fox News that it will consider shutting down the bridges to and from Cape Cod.

Amtrak suspended train service between New York and Boston until Saturday morning due to the storm.

The rail carrier had planned to stop service by 4:30 p.m. Friday, but trains were stopped earlier due to a fallen tree in New London, Conn.

"Overhead electrical system damage from a tree which fell from outside Amtrak property in Connecticut and more severe weather forecasted this evening has led Amtrak to suspend all through service between New York and Boston," the company said in a statement.

Continental Airlines canceled at least 60 flights, and some other regional carriers had also canceled flights. American, Delta, US Airways and United reported few or no cancellations.

Earl took an overnight swipe at North Carolina's Outer Banks, also dumping heavy rains in eastern Virginia and Maryland and leaving thousands without power as it veered toward the Northeast.

FEMA stocked water and prepared meals in staging areas near the North Carolina and Massachusetts coasts. Supplies included 400,000 liters of water and 300,000 meals shipped to Fort Bragg, N.C., and 162,000 liters of water and more than 213,000 meals stored in Westover, Mass.

By midmorning Friday, Earl buffeted Virginia with rain and gusts up to 45 mph as the storm passed farther out to sea. Officials in the Maryland beach resort of Ocean City advised people to secure trash cans, lawn furniture and other loose objects. One hotel took the tops off the fake palm trees around its swimming pool. The city of Rehoboth Beach, Del., removed lifeguard stands from the beach.

Tropical storm warnings remained in effect Friday for Connecticut, Rhode Island, Maine and Eastern Long Island, N.Y. The Rhode Island Office of Emergency Management told Fox News that the hurricane could stall over portions of the state, causing significant flooding along Interstate 95, a major highway along the East Coast.

Experts reported that the storm produced only minor flooding in some of North Carolina's coastal counties, but authorities were waiting for daybreak to begin patrolling the coast to check for damage.

North Carolina Gov. Beverly Perdue said there was no serious damage and urged people to get back out for the Labor Day weekend to "have a little fun and spend some money."

"Swiping the coast was always better than coming ashore," said Mark Van Sciver of the North Carolina Emergency Operations Center. "We're very grateful that the brunt of the storm passed us by."

Authorities sent teams out to assess the damage at first light. Some 35,000 visitors and residents on the Outer Banks had been urged to leave the dangerously exposed islands at the storm closed in, but hundreds of hardy souls chose to wait it out in their boarded-up homes.

The storm knocked out power to thousands of people along the North Carolina coast, Van Sciver said.

Nancy Scarborough of Hatteras said she had about a foot of water underneath her home, which is on stilts. Wind continued to howl and water appeared to be surging onto land from Pamlico Sound, between the island chain and the mainland. Scarborough hoped it wouldn't be long before the storm receded.

"Once it goes down, it shouldn't take long to get things back together," she said.

In the Northeast, the storm could have a punishing effect even if its center stays well off the coast; Earl's hurricane-force winds of 74 mph or more extended 70 miles from its center, and tropical storm-force winds of at least 39 mph radiated out 205 miles.

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

MyFoxBoston.com reported that hundreds of utility workers from the Midwest have arrived on Cape Cod at the request of NSTAR, a utility company that supplies electrical power to nearly 200,000 residential and business customers in the region.

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.

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The Associated Press contributed to this report