|Hurricane Earl has lost much of its force as it is moving northeast, away from the US coast [Reuters]
The once powerful Hurricane Earl has weakened to a tropical storm, pelting swathes of the eastern US coast with rain as it heads north towards Canada.
US weather forecasters said the storm was bearing down on the southeastern Canadian province of Nova Scotia early on Saturday after passing the northeastern US state of Massachusetts.
The US National Hurricane Center said winds had weakened to near 110km per hour as the storm lost steam churning northward over cooler waters.
"Additional weakening is forecast during the next 48 hours," the center said.
Most of the hurricane force winds were expected to remain offshore, posing limited risk to residents. Officials had urged about 35,000 visitors and residents of the Outer Banks to leave the exposed islands as the storm closed in, but many chose to wait it out in their boarded-up homes.
Forecasters downgraded Earl to a Category 1 storm on the five-step Saffir-Simpson scale of intensity late on Friday, after it reached Category 4 on Thursday.
The weakening came after it lashed parts of the east coast with heavy rain. But the unusually strong storm caused less damage than initially feared.
However, it prompted the evacuation of tens of thousands of people in North Carolina, who were left to mop up after a storm surge sent waves ashore.
Minimal damage was reported from fierce waves on North Carolina's Outer Banks low-lying barrier islands. Flooding up to one metre was reported in at least one island village, along with scattered power outages.
Waves surged over the road linking the islands, but as the storm moved away, beaches and businesses reopened.
"We lucked out. We never lost power," said Mike Howe, a resident of Salvo on Hatteras Island.