Weakened Earl packs less force than feared, looms on Canada but leaves little damage behind

By Russell Contreras, AP
Saturday, September 4, 2010

US says goodbye to Earl as storm spins into Canada

YARMOUTH, Mass. — In the end, Hurricane Earl wasn’t even as bad as some of the no-name nor’easters that pound New England from time to time.

The 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, the perfect start to the Labor Day weekend.

The worst of the damage in Massachusetts amounted to a few hundred power outages, a handful of downed power lines and isolated flooding. The storm didn’t make much of an impression on the dozen people who stayed overnight at a Red Cross shelter at the Dennis-Yarmouth Regional High School in Yarmouth on the Cape.

“Everybody was ready for something big to happen,” said Red Cross worker Harry Watling. “But when it came, most of us hardly even noticed.”

After skimming past both North Carolina and Massachusetts, Earl finally made landfall Saturday morning near Western Head, Nova Scotia.

Though the National Hurricane Center in Miami downgraded Earl to a tropical storm on Friday night, Canadian officials didn’t do so until about 12 hours later.

The storm brought heavy sheets of rain and swift gusts to Nova Scotia, toppling some trees and bringing down power lines.

Power outages were spreading across the southern part of the province and there were numerous flight 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.

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 — 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 more than 2 inches of rain, while adjacent Martha’s Vineyard got more than 4 inches. Hyannis, home to Kennedy compound, got about 4.5 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.

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 a few hundred early Saturday and were being quickly restored. He said the state shut down its emergency management center as of 7 a.m. Saturday.

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.

Massachusetts officials estimated that Cape Cod lost about 10 percent of its expected Labor Day weekend business, but were hopeful that last-minute vacationers would make up for it. Gov. Deval Patrick walked around Chatham on Saturday morning, proclaiming, “The sun is out and the Cape is open for business.”

As of 11 a.m. EDT, Earl’s center was located about 50 miles west-southwest of Halifax, Nova Scotia, and was moving northeast at 36 mph. The Canadian Hurricane Center issued a hurricane watch in Nova Scotia from Port L’Hebert to Point Tupper.

Earl dulled quickly in its march up the East Coast. 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.

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 off 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.

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 early Saturday, there were no reports of storm damage in Maine 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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