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A slightly diminished Hurricane Earl swiped past North Carolina on Friday on its way to New England, where coastal residents braced for the strongest hurricane to menace their shores in almost two decades.
The storm blew sustained winds of 105 mph and was about 400 miles south-southwest of Nantucket as of 8 a.m., according to the National Hurricane Center in Miami. The storm was expected to pass about 50 to 75 miles southeast of Nantucket on Friday night.
"This is the strongest hurricane to threaten the Northeast and New England since Hurricane Bob in 1991," said Dennis Feltgen, a meteorologist with the National Hurricane Center.
The National Weather Service is forecasting winds of 55 to 70 mph on Nantucket with gusts up to 85 mph. On Cape Cod, winds of 35 to 45 mph with gusts of up to 60 mph are expected.
Massachusetts and Rhode Island have declared states of emergency.
A hurricane watch remains in effect from Hull, Mass., just south of Boston, around Cape Cod to Westport, near the Rhode Island border. The rest of the New England coast remains under tropical storm warnings and watches.
"We're asking everyone: Don't panic," said Massachusetts Gov. Deval Patrick.
"We have prepared well, we are coordinated well, and I'm confident that we've done everything that we can."
On Friday morning, residents seemed to be following Patrick's advice. Traffic was light on both bridges to and from Cape Cod, where the air was still and a steady rain fell late morning. Shirley Powers, 62, of Leominster, arrived on the Cape on Friday morning after deciding not to postpone a trip to the town of Dennis, on the Cape's north coast, with her husband.
"I don't think it's going to be as bad where we are going to be," she said.
At the Hyannis Marina on Friday morning, Paul Tassinori, of West Yarmouth, was helping his neighbor, 83-year-old Norm Fasulo, take his 17-foot sailboat,
"Our Boo-Boo," to safer ground.
"Better safe than sorry," Fasulo said.
Ferries between Cape Cod and Nantucket were expected to stop running before noon and the island had already seen a steady exodus of boats Thursday. Windows at town-owned buildings were being boarded and the island pulled lifeguards from public beaches at noon Thursday.
"We're recommending people not go in the water," said Gregg Tivnan, Nantucket's assistant town manager. "In fact, we're encouraging people not to even go on the beaches on the southern parts of the island. One wave is all it takes to sweep someone away."
Rhode Island Gov. Donald Carcieri signed a declaration of disaster emergency Thursday, giving emergency workers access to state and federal resources to deal with problems that may be caused by the hurricane. Block Island, a popular Rhode Island tourist destination, was expected to see hurricane-force gusts.
In Connecticut, Gov. M. Jodi Rell pressed President Barack Obama to declare a state of emergency for her state.
"I have determined that this event is of such severity and magnitude that effective response is beyond the capabilities of the state and affected local governments as well as voluntary organizations," Rell said in a letter to Obama.
In New Hampshire, the storm appeared to be headed east of the state, but officials were encouraging homeowners who live near the coast to have extra batteries and water. Officials in Rye said they would close all the town's beaches because of possible dangerous ocean currents.
Hundreds were leaving their island summer homes in Maine on Thursday before the traditional end of the season on Labor Day because of the threat of a weekend washout, said Philip Conkling, president of the Island Institute. Most who live on the state's 15 islands with year-round populations will likely ride out the storm, assuming it doesn't change course, he added.
This program aired on September 3, 2010. The audio for this program is not available.
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