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Hurricane Arthur chases away East Coast vacationers (w/video)

  • Clouds and rains move in as beachgoers leave Freeman Park at the north end of Carolina Beach, N.C., Thursday, July 3, 2014. Residents along the coast of North Carolina are bracing for the arrival of the Hurricane Arthur, which threatens to give the state a glancing blow on Independence Day. (AP Photo/Wilmington Star-News, Mike Spencer)

RODANTHE, N.C. — A strengthening Hurricane Arthur forced thousands of vacationers on the North Carolina coast to abandon their Independence Day plans while cities farther up the East Coast rescheduled fireworks displays threatened by rain from the storm.

After passing over or near North Carolina early Friday, Hurricane Arthur was expected to weaken as it travels northward and slings rain along the East Coast. The annual Boston Pops Fourth of July concert and fireworks show was rescheduled for Thursday because of potential heavy rain from Arthur, while fireworks displays in New Jersey, Maine and New Hampshire were postponed until later in the weekend.

Forecasters expect Arthur to strengthen to a Category 2 storm with winds of 96 mph or more by the time it passes early Friday over or near the Outer Banks — a 200-mile string of narrow barrier islands with about 57,000 permanent residents.

Hurricane Arthur

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"We don't know for sure if the exact center of Arthur is going to pass over land or not. The chances have been increasing for that to occur with the last couple of forecasts. But even if the exact center doesn't go over you, you will experience impacts tonight. The weather is going downhill in North Carolina, even as we speak," said Rick Knabb, the director of the U.S. National Hurricane Center in Miami.

The islands are susceptible to high winds, rough seas and road-clogging sands, prompting an exodus that began Wednesday night.

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.

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