By Chris Keane
NAGS HEAD N.C. (Reuters) - A weakened but fast-moving Hurricane Arthur swept into southern New England on Friday night, wielding tropical storm-force winds, after an earlier landfall in North Carolina that caused only slight damage.
The Massachusetts summer resort areas of Nantucket and Cape Cod, popular destinations for visitors over the Fourth of July holiday weekend, were issued tropical storm warnings by the U.S. National Hurricane Center, which predicted powerful winds and several inches (cm) of rain.
"It will certainly have some impact for southern New England," said John Cangialosi, an NHC meteorologist. "It's very tricky conditions there for the Fourth."
Offshore and moving northeast quickly, Arthur was expected to bring rain and winds of tropical storm strength, or 39 to 73 miles per hour (63 to 117 kph), to the Massachusetts coast, the center said.
Also set to be pelted with rain but slightly weaker winds were eastern Maine and eastern Rhode Island, the NHC said.
"The center of Arthur will pass southeast of New England tonight and be over western Nova Scotia on Saturday and over the Gulf of St. Lawrence on Saturday night," the National Weather Service said in an advisory.
It cautioned that swells were affecting the coast of North Carolina, the mid-Atlantic and Northeast United States that could cause "life-threatening" surf and rip currents.
The first hurricane of the Atlantic season, Arthur cut power to almost 20,000 homes and businesses, downed trees and cut off barrier islands from the mainland after making landfall on North Carolina's Outer Banks late on Thursday.
State officials said there was minimal damage from the storm, the earliest in the season to hit North Carolina since records began in 1851. A dozen counties were under states of emergency, and the tourist haven of Ocracoke Island was without power.
"This has been a very good day. There have been no casualties or serious injuries reported," North Carolina Governor Pat McCrory said at a news conference in Raleigh.
Arthur hit with top sustained winds of 100 mph (160 kph), earning a Category 2 status on the five-step Saffir-Simpson scale. It weakened to a Category 1 as it moved northeast into colder waters of the Atlantic Ocean with 90-mph (145-kph) top sustained winds.
PICTURES SHAKEN FROM WALLS
McCrory said North Carolina's beaches were open. Thousands of beachgoers had left the low-lying Outer Banks before the storm as it disrupted July 4 festivities and fireworks.
Kathleen O'Neal, owner of Island Artworks on Ocracoke Island, said she could feel her house lift up as the storm passed overhead.
"It was very bad here," she said, adding that many trees had been knocked down and part of a neighbor's roof had been pulled off.
Officials on Ocracoke said power could be restored by late on Sunday. Meanwhile, a generator on the island was supplying power on a rotating basis.
State officials said ferry service to Ocracoke would resume for residents and property owners on Saturday.
McCrory's office said the highway connecting Hatteras Island to the mainland had been blocked but was expected to reopen by late on Sunday.
Arthur was the first hurricane to hit the United States since Superstorm Sandy devastated parts of New York and New Jersey in October 2012, causing an estimated $70 billion in damage.
(Additional reporting by Gene Cherry in Raleigh, North Carolina; David Adams in Miami, Ian Simpson in Washington, Ted Siefer in New Hampshire, Richard Weizel in Connecticut, and Sandra Maler in Washington; Writing by David Adams, Ian Simpson and Ellen Wulfhorst; Editing by James Dalgleish, Leslie Adler, Lisa Shumaker and Peter Cooney)