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Updated: Fri, 04 Jul 2014 04:13:17 GMT | By The Associated Press, cbc.ca

Hurricane Arthur forces thousands to flee coastal North Carolina



Mark Scammell places a piece of plywood over the sign to his surf shop in Nags Head, North Carolina July 3, 2014. The first hurricane of the Atlantic season gained strength on Thursday as it spun closer to the North Carolina coast, bringing the anticipated stiff wind gusts and heavy rain that forced thousands of vacationers to scrap their July Fourth holiday plans amid evacuation orders. REUTERS/Chris Keane (© UNITED STATES - Tags: ENVIRONMENT)

Mark Scammell places a piece of plywood over the sign to his surf shop in Nags Head, North Carolina July 3, 2014. The first hurricane of the Atlantic season gained strength on Thursday as it spun closer to the North Carolina coast, bringing the anticipated stiff wind gusts and heavy rain that forced thousands of vacationers to scrap their July Fourth holiday plans amid evacuation orders. REUTERS/Chris Keane (UNITED STATES - Tags: ENVIRONMENT) - RTR3X13U Chris Keane/Reuters

The centre of Hurricane Arthur was moving near North Carolina's coast early Friday after slashing into the state's barrier islands just ahead of Independence Day, forcing thousands to flee and much of the U.S. East Coast to shuffle holiday celebrations.

Arthur strengthened to a Category 2 storm with winds of up to 160 kilometres per hour Thursday evening before passing over the southern end of the Outer Banks — a 200-mile string of narrow barrier islands with about 57,000 permanent residents. The islands are susceptible to high winds, rough seas and road-clogging sands, prompting an exodus that began Wednesday night.

The storm was moving northeast early Friday after turning slightly west late Thursday, which increased the threat to mainland communities from flooding, tornadoes and intense winds.

"We're most concerned about flooding inland and also storm surges in our sounds and our rivers further inland," N.C. Gov. Pat McCrory said.

6,000 buildings without power

More than 6,000 homes and businesses had lost electricity Thursday evening, but an evaluation of storm damage would have to wait until after the sun rose Friday, McCrory said.

Before the storm hit, tourism officials had expected 250,000 people to travel to the Outer Banks for the holiday weekend.

After passing over North Carolina early Friday, Hurricane Arthur was expected to weaken as it travelled northward and dump rain along the East Coast. The annual Boston Pops Fourth of July concert and fireworks show were held Thursday night just before of a heavy downpour from Arthur, while fireworks displays in New Jersey and Maine were postponed until later in the weekend.

Arthur was centred early Friday about 56 kilometres northwest of Cape Hatteras, N.C., and 40 kilometres south-southwest of Manteo, N.C., and was moving northeast near 35 kilometres per hour. 

'Staying is just what we do'

Liz Browning Fox, her 84-year-old mother, her dog and 27 homing pigeons were staying home rather than evacuating their home in Buxton, one of seven villages on low-lying Hatteras Island where officials ordered evacuations ahead of the storm. She, her neighbours and officials worried Arthur could bury the only road off the island in sand or salt water, or slice it with a new channel linking the ocean and sound as happened twice in recent years.

"The road getting cut off, the power lines getting cut off, the food getting cut off, that's the big issues. And that's for everyone on the island," said Fox, 60. But she said she stays because she has "family all around. And more of them are older than I am rather than younger. Staying is just what we do."

Arthur, the first named storm of the Atlantic season, prompted a hurricane warning from the southern North Carolina coast to the Virginia border. 

Tropical storm watch issued in Maritimes

A tropical storm watch has been posted for all of Nova Scotia and P.E.I., as well as southern and eastern New Brunswick.

The storm is expected to weaken as it tracks northeast along the American east coast.

Arthur is also dumping about 130-millimetres of rain as it moves up the coast.

The Canadian Hurricane Centre predicts Arthur will be a strong post-tropical storm when it effects are felt in the Maritimes on the weekend.

Meteorologist Bob Robichaud of the Canadian Hurricane Centre says Nova Scotia will likely get the highest winds, while New Brunswick will get the most rainfall — up to 100 millimetres.

"We're still looking right now at a tropical storm arriving, but very, very close to hurricane strength," he said.

"So yes, this is something we're watching quite closely."

CBC meteorologist Ian Black said Thursday the weekend weather will be "nasty," but it could have been much worse.

"The good news is that the warm waters that help feed this hurricane and intensify it into a Category 2, those warm waters get really cold once you get close to Canada," Black said. "That's not going to support a hurricane, so that hurricane's going to weaken as it slams through here."

The centre predicts winds in the Maritimes of 65 kilometres per hour with gusts to 90.

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