UPDATE: 44,000 without power as Hurricane Arthur hits east coast
(NBC News) - More than 40,000 people were without power at the start of the July Fourth holiday after Hurricane Arthur scythed through North Carolina's Outer Banks early Friday.
Thousands more had already fled in preparation for the Category 2 storm, which has seen maximum sustained wind speeds of 100 miles per hour, lashings of rain and a storm surge of up to five feet.
Arthur is not only the first hurricane this season, but also the first to hit the United States since Sandy caused $70 billion damage across New Jersey and New York in October 2012.
The storm crossed the coast at Cape Lookout on the southern end of the Outer Banks at 11:15 p.m. Thursday, but by 4:30 a.m. the eye was back out over the Atlantic. The storm was downgraded later Friday to a Category 1, with top winds of 90 mph.
"Although there has been heavy rain and high winds, the saving grace is that is moving quite quickly back out over the ocean, at 21-22 miles per hour," Roy Lucksinger, principal meteorologist at The Weather Channel said. "It's a real shame for the people vacationing in the Outer Banks, but people on the mainland have not been hit as hard and by Friday afternoon they should even see some sunshine."
Gov. Pat McCrory said that about 44,000 people had been left without power in the wake of the storm. The worst-affected firm, Duke Energy, said it had more than 500 staff working on the ground to get their customers back online.
Holiday beach-goers on North Carolina's low-lying barrier islands also had their plans disrupted. According to a report by the Reuters news agency, tourists and some residents packed ferries and crowded the only highway off Ocracoke and Hatteras islands, where voluntary and mandatory evacuations were in effect.
Ferry service between some islands was suspended on Thursday afternoon as conditions began to deteriorate, with 22-foot waves reported offshore and heavy rain and wind gusts reported along the coast, the news agency said.
Further north, the National Weather Service issued tropical storm warnings for Nantucket Island, Martha's Vineyard, and Cape Cod, in Massachusetts. While not in line for a direct hit, these ares could see some of the storm's side effects as it passes by. Arthur was projected to calm down as it hit colder waters, and it was not expected to make landfall again until it hits Nova Scotia on Saturday.
New York, New Jersey and Delaware were not in the storm's path, but Lucksinger said it could react with another weather front and bring lashings more rain to that region.
Even the areas not affected by the hurricane’s strong winds and heavy rain may still be under rip current alerts, which have been issued all along the Eastern Seaboard, from Maine to Florida. Rip currents, which pull swimmers away from the shore, are responsible for 80 percent of surf rescues.
Arthur also put a damper on Fourth of July celebrations even before making landfall. Boston moved its holiday Pops concert to Thursday. Atlantic City, New Jersey, rescheduled its fireworks display for Sunday. Coastline cities in North Carolina, such as Surf City and Nags Head, either canceled or postponed their scheduled events.
Fireworks displays were also moved to the weekend in Ocean City, Maryland, and Norfolk and Virginia Beach, Virginia. Thursday night's Philadelphia concert was moved indoors, while Macy's annual fireworks display in New York City is scheduled to take place July 4 — rain or shine.