The center of Hurricane Arthur was moving off North Carolina's coast early Friday after slashing into the state's barrier islands just ahead of Independence Day, forcing thousands to flee and much of the East Coast to shuffle holiday celebrations.
Arthur strengthened to a Category 2 storm with winds of 100 mph Thursday evening before passing over the southern end of the Outer Banks - a 200-mile string of narrow barrier islands with about 57,000 permanent residents. The islands are susceptible to high winds, rough seas and road-clogging sands, prompting an exodus that began Wednesday night.
The storm was moving northeast early Friday after turning slightly west late Thursday, which increased the threat to mainland communities from flooding, tornadoes and intense winds.
"We're most concerned about flooding inland and also storm surges in our sounds and our rivers further inland," North Carolina Gov. Pat McCrory said.
He sought to strike a balance between a stern warning to vacationers and optimism that part of the busy weekend could be salvaged.
"Of course, this holiday weekend, the July 4th weekend, is one of the biggest weekends for coastal tourism in the state, and we anticipate a beautiful weekend after the Tropical Storm Arthur or the Hurricane Arthur is out of North Carolina," he said.
Before the storm hit, tourism officials had expected 250,000 people to travel to the Outer Banks for the holiday weekend.
Almost 25,000 customers were without power across the Carolinas early Friday, according to local power companies.
Arthur was expected to weaken as it traveled north off the East Coast, dumping rain along the way, then pass southeast of Cape Cod Friday night.
On Friday morning, Arthur was located about 65 miles east-northeast of Kitty Hawk, North Carolina and some 95 miles east-southeast of Norfolk, Va. It was moving northeast at 23 mph.
Arthur, the first named storm of the Atlantic season, prompted a hurricane warning from the southern North Carolina coast to the Virginia border. Tropical storm warnings were in effect for coastal areas as far north as Cape Cod, Massachusetts.
Commanders at Seymour Johnson Air Force Base in Goldsboro, about 150 miles from the coast, sent four KC-135R Stratotankers and more than 50 F-15E Strike Eagles to another base near Dayton, Ohio, to avoid the risk of damage from high winds.
Arthur is the earliest hurricane to hit North Carolina since record keeping began in 1851. The previous record held more than 100 years, being set on July 11, 1901, notes CBS Charlotte affiliate WBTV.
It's also hurricane to hit the United States since Superstorm Sandy, the Reuters news agency points out.
The annual Boston Pops Fourth of July concert and fireworks show were held Thursday night because of potential heavy rain from Arthur, while fireworks displays in New Jersey, Maine and New Hampshire were postponed until later in the weekend.
CBS Raleigh, N.C. affiliate WRAL-TV reports that, "Despite a series of tornado warnings across the eastern third of the state throughout Thursday evening, no serious storm damage was reported before daybreak Friday. A tornado touched down in Duplin County, damaging three homes."
Among the tourists leaving Hatteras Island were 27-year-old Nichole Specht and 28-year-old Ryan Witman of Lancaster, Pennsylvania. The couple started driving at 3:30 a.m. Thursday on North Carolina Highway 12, the only road on and off Hatteras.
"We were just saying we were really, really lucky this year that the weather was so great, and then this," Specht said as she ended a two-week vacation.
CBS Miami's hurricanes page
Many island residents, meanwhile, decided to ride out the powerful storm rather than risk losing access to homes connected to the mainland by a highway prone to washouts.
"All the people that I know who live here are staying put," said Mike Rabe, who planned to stay in his Rodanthe home despite an evacuation order for surrounding Hatteras Island.
In the last hours before the hurricane's approach late Thursday, Lena Lines helped to move furniture from the basement to the first floor of the home she shares with her parents to save it from possible flooding. They live in a complex of canals and sound-front homes in the shadow of a memorial to the Wright Brothers, who made the first powered flight in Kill Devil Hills.
If you live in that neighborhood, "It's undeniable, you're going to get flooded" during a storm like this, Lines said.
Dave Gillis, who does maintenance work at Harris-Teeter grocery stores, was attaching sections of galvanized sheet metal over the glass wall at the entrance of a Kill Devil Hills location just as rain started to fall sporadically at 10:30 pm.
"We're just getting to it," he said. "We've had a pretty busy day."
The departures of vacationers left things "pretty dead" on Hatteras Island during the normally bustling run-up to the Independence Day weekend, Rabe said. He spent Thursday running errands and helping neighbors prepare their homes for the storm.
On the Outer Banks' Ocracoke Island, accessible only by ferry, a voluntary evacuation took place.
Among those leaving the island was the Unmussig family of Midlothian, Virginia. They cut their vacation two days short when they left Thursday morning in an SUV towing a trailer filled with bicycles and kayaks.
"Our cottage was right on the sound and we didn't want that back-current surge coming in and flooding us out," said Donald Unmussig, 50.
"I just didn't want to risk getting caught there. I have to work Monday morning. I didn't want to be late," he added. "We just decided to cut the losses and go home and not have to deal with the problems."
On the Massachusetts island of Nantucket, no evacuations were planned, but residents who have lived through many a fierce storm said they know better than to totally relax.
"I think that for the most part it's another storm, but you never know what can happen," said Rocky Fox, who owns the Chicken Box nightclub on Nantucket. "Being the Fourth of July weekend, things seems to be magnified."
Fox said Nantucket residents are used to being prepared. "Mother Nature was upset with us this winter, and she may not be through. We're on an island. You can never tell what it's going to do. You prepare for the worst and hope for the best."