BUXTON, North Carolina — The last ferry left for the mainland and coastal residents hunkered down at home as Hurricane Earl closed in with 110 mph (177 kph) winds Thursday on North Carolina's dangerously exposed Outer Banks, the first and potentially most destructive stop on the storm's projected journey up the Eastern Seaboard.
The hurricane's outer squalls began to lash the long ribbon of barrier islands Thursday night. Gusts above 40 mph (64 kph) made signs shake and the heavy rain fall sideways in Buxton, the southeasternmost tip of the Outer Banks.
Hurricane Earl's winds were slowing, from 140 mph (225 kph) early Thursday to 110 mph (177 kph), Category 2 strength, by 8 p.m (0000 GMT). But forecasters warned that it remained powerful, with hurricane-force winds of 74 mph (119 kph) or more extending 70 miles (112 kilometers) from its center and tropical storm-force winds of at least 35 mph (56 kph) reaching more than 200 miles (322 kilometers)out.
Earl's arrival could mark the start of at least 24 hours of stormy, windy weather along the U.S. East Coast. During its march up the Atlantic, it could snarl travelers' Labor Day weekend plans and strike a second forceful blow to the vacation homes and cottages on Long Island, Nantucket Island and Cape Cod.