|The eye of Hurricane Arthur is seen over the Atlantic in this photo from the International Space Station tweeted by European Space Agency astronaut Alexander Gerst July 3, 2014.|
(Reuters) - The first hurricane of the Atlantic season has hit the North Carolina coast, a wet and windy spoiler of the July Fourth holiday for thousands of Americans as authorities ordered them to evacuate exposed areas.
Hurricane Arthur crossed the coast near Cape Lookout at the southern end of North Carolina's Outer Banks at 11:15 p.m. EDT (0315 GMT) on Thursday, with maximum sustained winds of 100 miles per hour (160 kph). This earned it Category 2 status on the five-step Saffir-Simpson scale of hurricane intensity, the U.S. National Hurricane Center said.
Moving northeast at 22 mph (35.6 kph), Arthur is the first hurricane to hit the United States since Superstorm Sandy devastated parts of New York and New Jersey in October 2012 and caused $70 billion in estimated damage.
"It (Arthur) is moving through very quickly. That's good news because the wind and the rain and the surge is not going to stay over eastern North Carolina for a long time," said Chris Landsea, a meteorologist at the National Hurricane Center.
"We're expecting the eye of the storm to move back over the Atlantic Ocean by morning," he said.
As of early Friday morning Arthur's eye was moving near mainland Dare County and northern Pamlico Sound with hurricane conditions spreading northward along the Outer Banks, according to the NHC.
More than 18,000 customers were without power near North Carolina's coast as Arthur rushed through early on Friday morning, according to utility Duke Energy.
However, Arthur remained a medium-sized storm with hurricane force winds extending outward only up to 40 miles (65 km) and lesser tropical storm-force winds 150 miles (240 km).
LITTLE RISK TO NORTHEASTERN U.S.
After scything through the Outer Banks, Arthur was expected to move northeastward over cooler water on Friday, diminishing in strength and posing little risk to the densely populated northeastern United States, forecasters said.
Tropical storm warnings would be in effect throughout Friday for eastern Massachusetts, including Nantucket. Arthur would be around western Nova Scotia in Canada early on Saturday.
The storm disrupted Independence Day festivities and fireworks for holiday beachgoers and others ordered off low-lying North Carolina barrier islands in its reaches.
Tourists and some residents packed ferries and crowded the only highway off Ocracoke and Hatteras islands, where voluntary and mandatory evacuations were in effect, though some people stayed behind to look after their homes.
North Carolina officials warned of life-threatening rip currents and a storm surge of up to 5 feet (1.5 meters) that could render the narrow 50-mile (80 km) Highway 12 connecting Hatteras Island to the mainland impassable.
Part of the highway was washed out by storm surge for two months after Superstorm Sandy, forcing people to use ferries to reach the mainland.
North Carolina was putting extra heavy equipment in place to remove sand and the overwash as soon as possible after Arthur passes. Hundreds of military and state police officials were deployed to help with storm preparation, safety and evacuation efforts.
Farther north, the beach resort of Ocean City, Maryland, and more than a dozen communities in New Hampshire and Connecticut put off their July Fourth fireworks display to Saturday.
(Additional reporting by Gene Cherry in Raleigh, David Adams in Miami, Ted Siefer in New Hampshire and Richard Weizel in Connecticut, editing by Mark Heinrich; Writing by Eric M. Johnson)