Earl causes power outages in Canada; biggest Northeast impact might be business on big weekend

By Russell Contreras, AP
Saturday, September 4, 2010

Earl’s biggest damage in Northeast: business

YARMOUTH, Mass. — In the end, Earl’s worst damage in New England was to seasonal businesses hoping to end their summer on a high note.

The tropical storm, far less intense than feared, brushed past the Northeast and dumped heavy, wind-driven rain on Cape Cod cottages and fishing villages but caused little damage.

It left clear, blue skies in its wake. It was the perfect start to a Labor Day weekend that Cape Cod’s restaurants and hotels hoped to salvage after business was decimated ahead of the storm.

“This traditionally for us is a sellout weekend,” said Voula Nikolakopoulos, one of the owners of Tidewater Inn in West Yarmouth, where business was down 80 percent. “I understand that we have to be careful, but I think all this hype was premature.”

Massachusetts suffered a few hundred power outages, a handful of downed power lines and isolated flooding. Maine saw rain and churning surf but no gusts strong enough to produce damage.

After skimming past North Carolina and Massachusetts, Earl finally made landfall Saturday morning near Western Head, Nova Scotia. It was blamed for the death of a man who drowned while trying to secure his boat after it became loose from its mooring off a bay near Halifax.

The storm brought heavy sheets of rain and swift gusts, toppling some trees and knocking out power to more than 200,000 customers in Nova Scotia. There were numerous flight and ferry cancellations. Police said the road to the popular Peggy’s Cove tourist site near Halifax was closed to keep curious storm-watchers away from the dangerous, pounding surf.

As of 4 p.m. EDT, Earl’s center was in the Gulf of St. Lawrence and was moving northeast at 52 mph. The Canadian Hurricane Center issued a tropical storm warning for parts of Newfoundland.

Earl had swooped into New England waters Friday night 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 rain it brought to Cape Cod, Nantucket Island and Martha’s Vineyard was more typical of the nor’easters that residents have been dealing with for generations.

Winds on Nantucket blew at around 30 mph, with gusts above 40 mph. The island got more than 2 inches of rain, while adjacent Martha’s Vineyard got more than 4 inches. Hyannis, home to the Kennedy family compound, got about 4.5 inches.

Peter Judge, spokesman for the Massachusetts Emergency Management Agency, said the damage was so minimal that the agency didn’t send out assessment teams as planned Saturday.

“There’s nothing to assess at this point,” he said. “It wasn’t even a really bad rainstorm.”

Worries about Earl had altered holiday weekend plans up and down the East Coast.

Boaters pulled their vessels from the water, shopkeepers boarded up their windows and vacationers canceled reservations. Some hoteliers reported that business was way off.

Nikolakopoulos said her hotel was at 100 percent occupancy last year on Labor Day weekend. On Friday night, it was at about 20 percent. She was hoping to recapture some of lost business with a storm special that cut rates from an average of about $130 to an average of $85.

Kishor Patel, owner of the Super 8 in West Yarmouth, said a number of people who had two-day reservations canceled when word of Earl started to spread. Business was down 60 to 70 percent, he said.

“I’m hoping that it will pick up now that it is sunny and everything seems to be OK,” he said.

Alix Foster, 34, of Clifton, N.J., said she and a friend decided to stay in a hotel on the mainland on Friday night instead of going onto Cape Cod as planned. The two opted to continue their planned vacation after seeing news reports that the weekend would be sunny and nice.

“The weather wasn’t all that bad last night, but we didn’t want to be stupid,” Foster said. “I’m glad we kept our plans.”

Massachusetts officials were hopeful that last-minute vacationers would make up for the cancellations. Gov. Deval Patrick walked around Chatham on Saturday morning, proclaiming, “The sun is out and the Cape is open for business.”

Earl, once a fearsome Category 4 hurricane with 145 mph winds, did kick up dangerous riptides up and down the coast. Officials warned that rip currents would continue to be a concern over the weekend. With offshore seas up to 20 feet, beaches would continue to see big waves that could knock people off jetties or piers, officials warned.

In central New Jersey, a body found by fishermen in an inlet Saturday was identified as that of a swimmer who went missing Thursday in rough ocean surf spawned by Earl, police said. The medical examiner’s office hadn’t determined the cause of death for the man, Pardip Singh, who had gone swimming with friends at Belmar, about a half-mile from where his body was recovered.

The storm buzzed past the eastern edge of Maine on Saturday morning. There were no reports of storm damage and very little for storm watchers to see.

Bruce and Amy Hodgdon drove to the nation’s eastern tip in Lubec, Maine, hoping to see dramatic surf pounding the rocks near the candy-striped West Quoddy Head lighthouse. Once there, they didn’t bother to get out of their van.

“Pretty mild,” Bruce Hodgdon said.

“Business as usual,” Amy Hodgdon added.

Associated Press writers Rob Gillies in Halifax, Nova Scotia; David Sharp in Lubec, Maine; and Jay Lindsay and Rodrique Ngowi in Boston contributed to this report.

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