Saturday, September 04, 2010

Hurricane Earl hangs tough, socks Canada's Nova Scotia

MONTREAL — A resilient Earl barreled ashore in Nova Scotia as a hurricane on Saturday, Canadian experts said, marking the last gasp of a monster storm that menaced the US East Coast but ultimately failed to do much damage there.

The center of the storm made landfall in southern Nova Scotia shortly after 11:00 am (1400 GMT), buffeting the craggy coastline with winds up to 120 kilometers (74 miles) per hour, according to the Canadian Hurricane Centre (CHC).

The huge weather system had lost some steam as it roared up the eastern seaboard overnight, dropping to tropical storm strength, but Earl appeared to hang tough in the hours before making landfall, and CHC stressed the storm was still packing a punch.

"As of the past hour, Hurricane Earl is still a hurricane," CHC meteorologist John Parker told AFP. To the north it was buffeting Halifax, the region's largest city, home to some 300,000 people, with winds of up to 110 kilometers (68 miles) per hour.

The Miami-based US National Hurricane Center (NHC) categorized it as a tropical storm, but said a hurricane watch was in effect for Nova Scotia.

The storm knocked out power in some 30,000 homes between Liverpool and eastern Halifax County. Greater Moncton International Airport canceled all flights Saturday, although Halifax Stanfield International Airport was partially operating.

The winds were still well removed from the brutal conditions just 36 hours earlier when Earl was a major, category four hurricane threatening devastation across several US states.

It steadily lost steam Friday after powering toward the US coast, but it still lashed several hundred kilometers (miles) of seaboard with heavy rains and strong winds, closing beaches and disrupting holiday plans for millions and prompting evacuations in North Carolina.

It had also prompted hurricane warnings in the northeastern US state of Massachusetts, notably its vacation destinations including Cape Cod and the tony islands of Nantucket and Martha's Vineyard, and while residents battened down the hatches, the storm dealt the region only a glancing blow.

"We had a lot of hype but no action, which was good," the wife of a former attendant at the historic Chatham Lighthouse on Cape Cod told AFP.

"It's over. There's blue sky, sunshine, very little rain," said the woman who identified herself only as Mrs. Davis, adding that winds and rain were strong overnight but did not cause major damage.

Residents of North Carolina were mopping up after a storm surge sent waves crashing ashore, flooding roads on the low-lying barrier islands as the high winds caused sporadic power outages.

Authorities were clear: coastal communities dodged a bullet.

"At this time we have no official reports of fatalities related to the storm track nor do we have any report of damage," Craig Fugate, head of the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), told reporters Friday.

Despite the downgrading of the storm, transport overnight to and from Cape Cod, Nantucket and Martha's Vineyard -- where US President Barack Obama vacationed with his family in late August -- was limited, with flights and ferries cancelled.

Friday's traffic commute over Cape Cod's two bridges was extremely light, given the Labor Day weekend usually boasts a four-to-five-hour gridlock.

Across Cape Cod, storm warnings had sent utility crews out trimming tree limbs from electrical lines and setting up rescue staging areas by the Cape's main mall to confront power outages.

Heeding warnings, local residents hunkered down along the beach paradise's commercial spine, Route 28, parallel to the Atlantic.

Commercial and residential properties in Cape Cod were boarded up with heavy plywood but many businesses had signs spray painted "Still Open" in neon colors.

Weather watchers said Earl was still the most powerful storm to threaten the US Northeast since 1991, when Hurricane Bob killed six people.

Joe Gurl, owner of the Polar Cave ice cream shop in West Yarmouth, said tourists had left Cape Cod "in a hurry" on Thursday.

But they were expected to flock back to the beaches for the Labor Day holiday, which traditionally marks the last busy beach weekend of summer.

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