UPDATE 9-Earl weakens to storm; damage less than feared

* Once a Category 4, Earl weakens to tropical storm

* Diminished storm will pass near Cape Cod overnight

* Canada warns residents in Atlantic provinces

* Outer Banks earlier “dodged a bullet” – NC governor
(Updates to show Earl downgraded to tropical storm)

By Scott Malone

HYANNIS, Mass., Sept 3 (BestGrowthStock) – Hurricane Earl, which
earlier in the week was a storm of major proportions that
threatened the U.S. East Coast, weakened to a tropical storm
on Friday as it swirled offshore towards Canada.

Earl was delivering heavy rain and gusty winds to parts of
New England en route to Canada’s Atlantic provinces, but has
caused far less damage than feared on its northeasterly path up
the coast from North Carolina’s Outer Banks.

Maximum sustained winds are down to 70 mph (110 kph) as
Earl neared southeast Massachusetts, and were expected to
weaken further overnight.

The storm, which is moving rapidly, is expected to pass
Massachusetts’ Cape Cod and nearby islands at around 2 a.m.
(0600 GMT) and reach the coast of Nova Scotia on Saturday, the
National Hurricane Center said.

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For full coverage of Earl [ID:nN2005]

For an Earl graphic http://link.reuters.com/qeq29n

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The fading storm raised hopes that the Northeast will
suffer only limited losses during the 3-day Labor Day holiday
weekend, which airlines and other businesses bank on for a
final flood of summer tourist dollars.

The hurricane center warned that Earl — though no longer
packing anywhere near the power of its peak ranking as a
fearsome Category 4 storm on the five-step Saffir-Simpson scale
— could cause storm surges and localized flooding.

Tropical storm force winds could extend out 205 miles (335
km) from the storm’s center, the center said.

BULLET DODGED

As residents from Cape Cod to Canada’s Maritimes prepared
to wait out the storm, those that Earl had mostly bypassed
further to the south breathed a sigh of relief.

“For the most part, it appears we have dodged a bullet,”
North Carolina Governor Bev Perdue said.

Minimal damage was reported other than beach erosion from
fierce waves on North Carolina’s Outer Banks low-lying barrier
islands. Flooding up to 3 feet (1 meter) was reported in at
least one island village, along with scattered power outages.

Waves surged over the road linking the islands, where
100,000 people were ordered to evacuate as Earl approached. But
as the storm moved away, beaches and businesses reopened.

“We lucked out. We never lost power,” said Mike Howe, a
resident of Salvo on Hatteras Island.

Earlier on Thursday, many residents and business owners on
Massachusetts’ Cape Cod and the islands of Martha’s Vineyard
and Nantucket were busy boarding up windows with plywood in
anticipation of much worse conditions.

The Coast Guard closed ports in southeastern Massachusetts
and Rhode Island. Dozens of flights were canceled to the area,
National Guard troops were standing by, and extra utility crews
were in place to respond to any power outages.

LOSING ITS PUNCH

At 11 p.m. EDT (0300 GMT Saturday), Earl’s center was about
90 miles (150 km) south-southeast of Nantucket and moving
rapidly, the hurricane center said.

For parts of the Massachusetts coast, Earl could still
generate large, damaging waves and cause beach erosion. High
surf was pounding Nantucket and Martha’s Vineyard, with waves
as high as 10 to 12 feet, local media reported.

Some streets in downtown Nantucket were reportedly flooded
as the island was pelted by heavy rain.

No storm has threatened such a broad swath of the U.S.
shoreline since Hurricane Bob in 1991.

Storm-related outages from North Carolina to Connecticut
knocked out power to about 3,300 customers, the U.S. Energy
Department said — a small number that showed the mild impact
of what was once shaping up to be a monster storm.

As oil refineries, drilling platforms and nuclear power
plants along the Atlantic coast monitored Earl’s path, EnCana
Corp (ECA.TO: ) said it suspended drilling and pulled personnel
from a Nova Scotia rig in Canada. [ID:nN02195719]

Imperial Oil Ltd (IMO.TO: ) shut down its Dartmouth, Nova
Scotia, refinery as a precaution.

Exxon Mobil (XOM.N: ) said it had pulled nonessential staff
from its Sable field in offshore Nova Scotia. [ID:nN02238430]

ConocoPhillips (COP.N: ) said it implemented hurricane
response plans at its 238,000 barrel per day refinery in
Linden, New Jersey and a 185,000 bpd refinery in Trainer,
Pennsylvania. Operations remained unaffected. [ID:nN03124548]

The U.S. Energy Information Administration said about 1.1
million barrels per day of oil refining capacity lies in the
likely affected area in the United States. [ID:nWNA8910]

Coastal New England endured windy, rainy weather on Friday
evening. Amtrak suspended train service between New York and
Boston after falling trees damaged wires in Connecticut.

The Boston Red Sox baseball team postponed its scheduled
game due to expected poor weather. Further south, though, the
U.S. Open tennis in Flushing Meadows, New York, was hit by no
more than a few rain-drops.

Canada warned residents in parts of the Atlantic provinces
to be on alert for tropical storm conditions.

In Nova Scotia, where Earl is due to make landfall early on
Saturday, residents stocked up on emergency supplies.

Behind Earl, Tropical Storm Fiona weakened to a “remnant
low” as it moved north over the open Atlantic toward Bermuda.
At 11 p.m. ET (0300 GMT Saturday) it had top sustained winds of
30 mph (45 kph) and was expected to weaken further as it passed
near the British territory on Saturday.
(Additional reporting by Gene Cherry in Manteo, North
Carolina; Tom Brown, Kevin Gray and Jane Sutton in Miami; Pav
Jordan in Halifax and Jeffrey Jones in Calgary; writing by Matt
Spetalnick and Ros Krasny; editing Anthony Boadle)

UPDATE 9-Earl weakens to storm; damage less than feared