US & Canada

Earl weakens to tropical storm as it passes US coast

Strong winds from tropical storm Early his Montauk, NY (3 Sept 2010)
Image caption Earl brought strong winds and heavy rain to areas along the East Coast

Hurricane Earl has been downgraded to a tropical storm as it continues up the east coast of the US.

Earl brought maximum sustained winds of 110km/h (70mph) as it passed off the coast of Cape Cod, heading for Canada.

The storm is expected to weaken further as it travels north, reaching the coast of Nova Scotia on Saturday, where a hurricane watch is in effect.

Officials say the storm has so far caused only minor flooding and power outages on the US mainland.

The National Weather Service said the storm knocked out electricity and caused flooding in North Carolina's Outer Banks.

Some 80 National Guard troops were sent to assist with relief efforts in North Carolina.

Strong winds and heavy rain also lashed Long Island and Cape Cod as the storm passed by.

But Earl, now 150km (93 miles) south-southeast of Massachusetts, has not proved to be as strong as was feared.

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

The governor of North Carolina, Bev Perdue, said it appeared the state had "dodged a bullet".

Farther north, Massachusetts and Rhode Island joined North Carolina, Virginia and Maryland by declaring states of emergency.

A state of emergency authorises the Federal Emergency Management Agency (Fema) and the Department of Homeland Security to head disaster relief efforts.

The governor of Massachusetts, Deval Patrick, urged residents of low-lying areas that typically experience flooding to consider leaving their homes by Friday afternoon.

"We're asking everyone, 'don't panic'. We have prepared well. We are coordinated well, and I'm confident that we've done everything that we can," said Mr Patrick.

But by Friday evening, a hurricane warning in place for much of the region - including Nantucket Island and Martha's Vineyard - had been discontinued.

The storm is expected to hit western Nova Scotia in Canada on Saturday. A hurricane watch is in place there from Ecum Secum to Digby.

Holiday storm

Forecasters said much of New England could expect gusty winds, fallen trees and downed power lines from the storm, which is moving north-northeast.

Image caption Earl lashed North Carolina's Outer Banks with tropical force winds and rain, causing minor flooding

Dozens of flights and trains into New England were cancelled.

The storm comes as Americans and Canadians mark the Labour Day holiday, the traditional end of summer in North America, which sees thousands of people heading to coastal beaches.

The latest news of the weakened storm follows earlier evacuations in North Carolina, where 35,000 visitors and residents on Ocracoke Island and Hatteras Island were told to leave on Tuesday.

On Monday, the then-Hurricane Earl battered north-eastern Caribbean islands and Puerto Rico, causing power cuts and flooding.

Earl is being followed by Tropical Storm Fiona, which is expected to pass near the British overseas territory of Bermuda late on Friday or early on Saturday morning.

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