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Weakened Hurricane Arthur heads up US East Coast

Hurricane Arthur, downgraded to a category one storm, was carrying its still-fierce winds and drenching rains to the US northeast Friday, after getting the July 4 holiday off to a soggy start for vacationers further south.

MIAMI: Hurricane Arthur, downgraded to a category one storm, was carrying its still-fierce winds and drenching rains to the US northeast Friday, after getting the July 4 holiday off to a soggy start for vacationers further south.

By 9 am (1300 GMT), Arthur, which had crashed ashore in North Carolina overnight as a category two storm, had lost a bit of its punch, with maximum sustained winds of 90 miles (150 kilometres) per hour.

Officials from the National Hurricane Center in Miami said the storm was likely to weaken further over the course of the day as it chugged northward on its mission to ruin Independence Day celebrations in the New England region of the US northeast.

The NHC's 1300 GMT advisory said Arthur was located about 130 miles (205 kilometres) east of Norfolk, Virginia, and was heading toward the northeast at 23 miles (37 kilometres) per hour.

By early Saturday the storm was supposed to arrive in Nova Scotia, Canada, after first passing east of New England.

As dawn broke on a disrupted July 4 holiday for tens of thousands of vacationers, television footage showed fierce winds and horizontal rain in the resort region of the Outer Banks of North Carolina, the long and thin series of barrier islands where the storm made landfall late Thursday.

Trees bent wildly in the gusting rain as gushing streams of water flowed in streets.

The NHC said the first hurricane of the Atlantic season carried damaging waves and powerful tidal surges, and left behind up to a half-foot (15 centimetres) in rainfall.

Some evacuations had been ordered as the hurricane approached. It finally came ashore as a category two hurricane, on a scale in which five is the highest.

The hurricane will weaken over the next two days into a post-tropical depression Friday night or Saturday, the Miami-based hurricane centre said.

North Carolina state Governor Pat McCrory said emergency preparation efforts had been made more complicated by the arrival of thousands of tourists who do not know the local roads well.

Thousands of people lost power in North Carolina, news reports said, and there was localized flooding in areas including the coastal city of Wilmington.

"Our main issue is the health and safety of our citizens and those people who are visiting North Carolina," McCrory said.

Emergency declarations were issued by several counties in the southern state, which opened emergency shelters and ordered evacuations in low-lying areas.

But, as always, there were holdouts.

"I don't take these storms lightly, but I've never left during a hurricane," Renee Cahoon, 58, the former mayor of Nags Head on the Outer Banks, told the Los Angeles Times. She owns a grocery store and has lived in a beachfront home for more than 40 years. She planned to reopen her shop later Friday.

As many as half a million visitors had been expected in the coastal Carolinas for the national holiday, the region's biggest tourist weekend.

Authorities issued a mandatory evacuation order for Hatteras Island and a voluntary evacuation order for Ocracoke Island, both in North Carolina's Outer Banks, CNN reported.

But it was not just North Carolina -- where tornado warnings were activated in some areas -- that was bracing for Arthur's impact.

The storm threatened to scuttle traditional Independence Day weekend picnics, parades and fireworks displays for millions of Americans all along the East Coast, as far north as New England.

The Atlantic hurricane season began June 1 and runs through November 30.

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