NAGS HEAD, N.C. (AP) -- Hurricane Earl knocked out power to hundreds of residents along North Carolina's Outer Banks and flooded homes on barrier islands but officials said Friday the storm brought relatively minor damages to the state.
State and local officials said no injuries were reported as the hurricane brushed over the Outer Banks, bringing driving rains and sustained winds of up to 59 mph to the shoreline overnight. Gusts were reported to hit 82 mph at the Oregon Inlet Marina.
"We dodged a bullet. Purely and simply, North Carolina dodged a bullet," Gov. Beverly Perdue said during a morning news conference.
Earl had weakened by the time its eye passed about 85 miles east of Cape Hatteras at about 2 a.m. Friday. By daybreak, some small towns were again readying for weekend Labor Day festivities.
The main artery through the area -- Highway 12 -- was closed just south of the Bonner Bridge because of tidal flooding coupled with the storm. Officials said the road to and from Hatteras Island -- home to seven villages -- would stay closed through Friday.
The highway is critical should residents and tourists who obeyed evacuation orders plan to return soon. Several counties had asked people to leave risky areas, including Ocracoke and Hatteras islands.
On Ocracoke, Highway 12 was open to 4-wheel-drive traffic early Friday, Hyde County spokeswoman Jamie Tunnell said. Officials hoped to clear the road for all vehicles by the end of the day.
On Hatteras, many roads remained flooded and some homes were surrounded by water, but residents in 4-wheel drive trucks were out surveying the scene of scattered plywood and boards Friday morning. A section of the dilapidated and already closed Frisco Pier collapsed in the pounding surf.
In the island's village of Avon, Andrea Brothers said her home was surrounded by 3 feet of water, which reached to the first floor. She was taking shelter next door in a sturdier house.
"I'm not scared, but I just hate to think of the damage people are about to face," said Brothers, 43.
Nancy Scarborough, of Hatteras, said she had about a foot of water underneath her home, which is on stilts. Winds continued to howl and water appeared to be surging onto land from Pamlico Sound. Scarborough said she hoped it wouldn't be long before the storm receded.
"Once it goes down, it shouldn't take long to get things back together," she said.
Transportation Department engineer Jerry Jennings said the sand is as deep as 3 feet on some stretches of Highway 12 in the Hatteras village of Rodanthe. He said officials hope to reopen the island road by Saturday but can't promise that will happen.
He said conditions could have been much worse had pavement been damaged.
"We consider ourselves very fortunate," Jennings said. "It could have been a lot worse."
About 5,000 customers awoke without service in Hyde County, which includes Ocracoke, but most had power back by midday, state emergency operations officials said. Utilities reported more than 1,600 customers were without service in Dare County and farther south around New Bern, Morehead City, Jacksonville and Kinston.
Survey teams were checking whether erosion from the waves churned up by the storm caused any property damage between the Oregon Inlet and the Virginia state line, Perdue said. In northern Currituck County, officials announced that visitors who had been asked to leave a day earlier could start returning at 11 a.m.
In historic downtown Beaufort, residents jogged and walked their dogs along the wooden boardwalk on the waterfront. Besides a few puddles near the curb, there was no sign a major hurricane had passed near the coast.
R.V. Hodge was busy removing sandbags from in front of the doors and tape from the windows of a store that sells marine supplies.
He laughed that Earl "was sort of like getting shot with a blank from a gun with a silencer."
"I have a lot of confidence in the NOAA people predicting it was going to be a brush by," he said. "I have a lot of confidence in them but you never know, so we prepared."
Some residents said they had boarded up; others had not worried about the storm. All seemed relieved there was little damage.
Carteret County ended its state of emergency, evacuation order and curfew and reopened the two high-rise bridges allowing vacationers back onto its major barrier island, Bogue Banks. The town of Atlantic Beach sustained nearly no damage and municipal officials rescheduled Labor Day festivities starting with outdoor concerts and movies on Friday night.
At Stack 'Em High in Kill Devil Hills, a small group of residents and vacationers gathered for coffee and pancakes and reflected on Earl's near-miss.
"We've been coming down here for 20 years," said Bruce Nolte of Richmond, Va., "and this for sure was not the worst."
Nolte and wife Joanne were waiting to see if they could return to their beach house in Nags Head. "Any storm that misses us is a good one," Joanne Nolte said.
Joe and Betty Vaughn of Franklin, Va., passed the night in a rented mobile home. Apart from some minor leaks and noisy wind, they said everything was fine.
"I kind of catnapped through the whole thing," Betty Vaughn said. "I wish it would stop raining so I could hurry up and go down to the beach."