Weakened Earl packs less force than feared, hits Mass. with rain, wind before aiming at Canada

By Russell Contreras, AP
Saturday, September 4, 2010

Weakened Earl packs less force than feared

CHATHAM, Mass. — The remnants of Hurricane Earl took aim at Nova Scotia early Saturday after a brush with the Northeast that was far less intense than feared, dumping heavy, wind-driven rain on Cape Cod cottages and fishing villages accustomed to nor’easters.

Officials planned to survey the damage from the storm at daybreak, but early reports showed only a few hundred power outages, a handful of downed power lines and isolated flooding in Massachusetts.

Earl 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 — except this one disrupted the unofficial last weekend of summer.

Winds on Nantucket blew at around 30 mph, with gusts above 40 mph. The island got about 1.5 inches of rain, while adjacent Martha’s Vineyard got more than 3 inches.

Nantucket, the well-to-do resort island and old-time whaling port, briefly saw some localized flooding, but it cleared within hours, Nantucket Assistant Town Manager Gregg Tivnan said. There were no evacuations, power outages or even reports of trees down, he said.

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

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

Judge said power outages peaked at about 1,800 but were down to 600 early Saturday and were being quickly restored. He said the state was shutting down its emergency management center as of 7 a.m. Saturday.

“We feel very fortunate that we’re not dealing with major issues this morning,” he said. “Hopefully, people will be able to enjoy the weekend.”

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. Beachgoers were warned to stay out of the New England waters — 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 center of the storm passed about 105 miles east-southeast of Nantucket early Saturday and was moving away from the U.S. It was expected to reach the coast of Nova Scotia by late Saturday morning or early afternoon. A hurricane watch was issued from Ecum Secum to Digby.

As of 5 a.m. EDT, Earl’s center was located about 145 miles southwest of Halifax, Nova Scotia, and was moving northeast at 30 mph.

The storm weakened faster than predicted and would continue to diminish, National Weather Service meteorologist Rebecca Gould said.

Earl dulled quickly over the course of 36 hours. By midday Friday, it had dropped to a Category 1 storm — down from a fearsome Category 4 with 145 mph winds a day earlier. At 11 p.m., it was downgraded to a tropical storm.

Officials had warned New England residents against complacency, but many in Chatham, a fishing village at Cape Cod’s eastern edge, didn’t seem worried.

Tourists strolled past the bookstores, cafes and ice cream parlors on Main Street, where a few stores had put plywood over their windows, including the Ben Franklin Old Fashioned Variety Store. “C’mon Earl, we’re ready for you,” a handwritten note read.

Late Friday, when it appeared Earl would not deliver a strong punch, the town’s beach turned festive. People ran on the sand and a teenager in an alien-like suit measured wind speeds.

“We’re having a great time,” said Jodie Charest, 36, of Chatham, who was there with her daughters, Alexis, 15, and Molly, 8. “We just ran down to the beach … enjoying the rain in our faces and just enjoying the wind in our hair.”

Earl stayed far off New Jersey and the eastern tip of New York’s Long Island as it made its way north.

“Where is the hurricane everybody’s been talking about?” Lenard LoBiondo asked as he stood under a soft drizzle with a drink and some relatives on the deck outside the Liar’s Saloon by a marina in Montauk, N.Y.

The storm did kick up dangerous riptides up and down the coast. In New Jersey, two young men apparently died earlier this week in the rough surf caused by Earl and the hurricane before it, Danielle. Fog, wind and roiling seas also hindered the search for a boater who went missing before Earl’s arrival early Friday afternoon in Portsmouth, N.H.

Officials warned that rip currents would continue to be a concern Saturday and Sunday. With offshore seas up to 20 feet, beaches would continue to see big waves that could knock people off jetties or piers.

Twenty miles out off the Maine coast, lobstermen on Matinicus Island were cautious after getting fooled by Hurricane Bill, which missed the mainland last year but sent tides and rough seas that destroyed their traps. This time, they moved their gear to the safety of deeper water or pulled their traps out altogether.

At Maine’s Acadia National Park, officials closed most of a road where a 7-year-old girl was swept to her death by a 20-foot wave last year while watching the swells from Bill.

As of 5 a.m. Saturday, there were no reports of storm damage in Maine, but the state’s two easternmost counties — Hancock and Washington — remained under a tropical storm warning.

After skirting Massachusetts, Earl was headed for Canada. Tropical storms typically weaken when they enter the colder waters between Maine and Canada, but many Nova Scotia residents stocked up on bottled water and canned goods, fearing a repeat of 2003, when Hurricane Juan killed eight and caused millions of dollars in damage.

Others counted on Earl being downgraded. A biker rally expected to draw thousands in Digby, Nova Scotia, on Saturday wasn’t canceled, and thousands of motorcycles lined the main street Friday night.

Bob Martin, of Halifax, said the looming storm wasn’t a big deal.

“We’re putting our motorcycles in a buddy’s garage,” he said. “We’re just going to party and let the storm go by.”

Associated Press writers David Sharp in Portland, Maine; Jay Lindsay and Rodrique Ngowi in Boston; Larry Neumeister in Montauk, N.Y.; and Rob Gillies in Halifax, Nova Scotia, contributed to this report.

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