NEW YORK (Reuters) - Storm Hermine churned off the U.S. Middle Atlantic Coast on Sunday, threatening to regain hurricane strength after carving a path of destruction through the South while so far sparing the Northeast from the worst of its wind, rain and sea surge.
Officials warned the storm could produce deadly surges and ordered swimmers, surfers and boaters to stay out of treacherous waters during the Labor Day holiday weekend, when many Americans celebrate the end of summer.
Overnight, the center of the storm moved farther east and away from the coast than previously forecast, said Rick Knabb, director of the National Hurricane Center (NHC), in a webcast.
“That’s good news, but this is not over yet because we still are forecasting it to slow down and meander generally northward ... We think it could become hurricane force again,” Knabb said, as the storm was likely to strengthen as it moved over warm water.
The storm, which claimed at least two lives, in Florida and North Carolina, is expected to stall off the coast for several days. It had sustained winds of nearly 70 mph (113 kph) as of 11 a.m. Eastern time (1500 GMT), the hurricane center said.
The mass power outages and flooding that battered Florida, Georgia and the Carolinas had yet to materialize further north, where alarming news reports scared tourists away from the beach.
Those who stayed awoke to sunshine but stronger than usual winds and choppy seas.
“It was a little overhyped by the media,” said Andrew Thulin, assistant general manager of Daddy O Hotel Restaurant in Long Beach Township, New Jersey. “It killed the weekend for everybody down here. I talk to all my other colleagues in our business and everybody was like, ‘Are we going to send the Weather Channel a bill?’”
Further south in Cape May, New Jersey, tourists fled during rainstorms on Saturday only to have the weather improve.
“The temperature is great. It’s beautiful out, the birds are out,” said Kathleen Wilkinson, a Philadelphia lawyer with a vacation home in Cape May. “Knowing the storm is 100 miles out at sea is comforting.”
Officials who were mindful of the devastation caused by Superstorm Sandy in 2012 took every precaution. In other parts of the state people reported coastal roads were flooded and beaches swallowed up by the surging sea.
New Jersey Governor Chris Christie said officials were still on alert, especially on the state’s southern coast where he declared a state of emergency in three counties.
“Unless it makes a turn back west ... we’re going to be looking at moderate flooding rather than a very severe impact,” Christie told CBS News.Hermine, the first hurricane to make landfall in Florida in 11 years, swept ashore on Friday near the town of St. Marks with winds of 80 mph (129 kph), knocking out power for 300,000 Florida homes and businesses.
It left North Carolina with more power outages, flooding, downed trees and power lines, while rain and tides brought flooding along Virginia’s coast.
In the northern Florida town of Ocala, a falling tree killed a homeless man sleeping in his tent. In North Carolina, a tractor trailer overturned on a bridge over the Alligator River, killing the driver.
The center forecast the heaviest rains to remain offshore, with Hermine expected to produce 1 to 2 inches (2.5 to 5 cm) of rain through Monday from Long Island to eastern Massachusetts.