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Arthur bears down on North Carolina coast before tracking north along US Eastern Seaboard

KILL DEVIL HILLS, N.C. - Hurricane Arthur began moving offshore and away from North Carolina's Outer Banks early Friday after slashing into the state's barrier islands overnight.

Arthur strengthened to a Category 2 storm with winds of 160 kilometres per hour Thursday evening before passing over the southern end of the Outer Banks — a 320-kilometre 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. An evaluation of storm damage would have to wait until after the sun rose Friday, McCrory said.

About 22,000 were without power across the Carolinas early Friday, according to Duke Energy's website.

Before the storm hit, tourism officials had expected 250,000 people to travel to the Outer Banks for the holiday weekend.

After passing over North Carolina early Friday, Hurricane Arthur was expected to weaken as it travelled northward and dump rain along the East Coast. The annual Boston Pops Fourth of July concert and fireworks show were held Thursday night just before of a heavy downpour from Arthur, while fireworks displays in New Jersey and Maine were postponed until later in the weekend.

As of 5 a.m. EDT Friday, Arthur was centred about 30 kilometres east of Kitty Hawk, N.C., and 135 kilometres southeast of Norfolk, Virginia. It was moving northeast near 35 km/h.

Liz Browning Fox, her 84-year-old mother, her dog and 27 homing pigeons were staying home rather than evacuating their home in Buxton, one of seven villages on low-lying Hatteras Island where officials ordered evacuations ahead of the storm. She, her neighbours and officials worried Arthur could bury the only road off the island in sand or salt water, or slice it with a new channel linking the ocean and sound as happened twice in recent years.

"The road getting cut off, the power lines getting cut off, the food getting cut off, that's the big issues. And that's for everyone on the island," said Fox, 60. But she said she stays because she has "family all around. And more of them are older than I am rather than younger. Staying is just what we do."

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. A tropical storm watch was in effect for Nova Scotia in Canada.

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.

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Associated Press writers Martha Waggoner in Raleigh, N.C, and Skip Foreman in Charlotte, N.C., contributed to this report.

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Emery Dalesio can be reached at http://twitter.com/emerydalesio .

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