RALEIGH, N.C. (AP) " Federal officials urged U.S. residents to prepare for possible evacuations and islanders in the Turks and Caicos hunkered down in their homes Tuesday as powerful Hurricane Earl howled over open seas toward the East Coast of the U.S.Read more: FEMA preparing for Hurricane Earl (Washington Post) Hurricane hunters fly into Earl (MSNBC)
The Category 4 hurricane, with winds of 135 mph (215 kilometers), was expected to remain over the open ocean before turning north and running parallel to the U.S. coast, potentially reaching the North Carolina coastal region by late Thursday or early Friday. It was projected then to curve back out to sea, perhaps swiping New England or far-eastern Canada.
"We can't totally rule out a very close approach to either of the Cape Hatteras areas or Cape Cod and southern New England as the storm progresses further," said Bill Read, director of the U.S. National Hurricane Center in Miami.
Earl delivered a glancing blow to several small Caribbean islands Monday, tearing roofs off of homes and cutting electricity to people in Anguilla, Antigua, and St. Maarten. Cruise ships were diverted and flights canceled across the region. But there were no reports of death or injury.
Gusty winds from Earl's outer fringes were whipping palm fronds and whistling through doors as Turks and Caicos Islands residents hunkered down in their homes and tied-down boats seesawed on white-crested surf.
A small crowd of islanders gathered early Tuesday afternoon to watch big waves pound a Grand Turk shore, as the wind sent sand and salt spray flying.
"We can hear the waves crashing against the reef really seriously. Anybody who hasn't secured their boats by now is going to regret it," Kirk Graff, owner of the Captain Kirks Flamingo Cove Marina, said by phone as he watched the darkening skies.
In Providenciales, Benson Capron was among several fishermen tying their boats to trees lining the beach.
"I hear it is going to pass, but I will not take any chances," Capron said. "Today I will not go out to fish."
Forecasters said it was too early to say what effect Earl would have in the U.S., but warned it could at least kick up dangerous rip currents. A surfer died in Florida and a Maryland swimmer had been missing since Saturday in waves spawned by former Hurricane Danielle, which weakened to a tropical storm Monday far out in the north Atlantic.
Craig Fugate, administrator of the Federal Emergency Management Agency, said evacuations may be necessary along the eastern seaboard later this week if the storm does not veer away from the coast as expected.
"Today is the day to make sure you have your plan completed and your supplies in place," Fugate said.
The storm's center passed just north of the British Virgin Islands on Monday afternoon. Despite a few lost fishing boats and several uprooted trees in Tortola and Anegada, there were no reports of major damage or injuries, said Sharleen DaBreo, disaster management agency director.
By midday Tuesday, Earl's center was about 170 miles (275 kilometers) east of Grand Turk island as it headed west-northwest at 14 mph (22 kph), according to the hurricane center.
Tropical storm conditions were expected to spread into the Turks and Caicos by Tuesday afternoon.
Close on Earl's heels, Tropical Storm Fiona formed Monday afternoon in the open Atlantic. The storm, with maximum winds of 40 mph (65 kph), was projected to pass just north of the Leeward Islands by Wednesday and stay farther out in the Atlantic than Earl's northward path. Fiona was not expected to reach hurricane strength over the next several days.
Residents were cleaning up debris and assessing damage Tuesday on islands across the northeastern Caribbean.
In Puerto Rico, nearly 187,000 people were without power and another 60,000 without water, Gov. Luis Fortuno said. More than a dozen roads along the north coast remained closed as crews removed trees and downed power lines.
In St. Maarten, sand and debris littered the streets, and winds knocked down trees and electricity poles and damaged roofs. But police spokesman Ricardo Henson said there was no extensive damage to property.
In Antigua, at least one home was destroyed but there were no reports of serious injuries. Governor General Dame Louise Agnetha Lake-Tack declared Monday a public holiday to keep islanders off the road and give them a chance to clean up.
Associated Press Writers Suzette Laboy in Miami; Vivian Tyson in Providenciales, Turks and Caicos; Ben Fox in Fajardo, Puerto Rico; Anika Kentish in St. John's, Antigua; Judy Fitzpatrick in Philipsburg, St. Maarten; and David McFadden, Mike Melia and Danica Coto in San Juan and contributed to this report.
Copyright 2010 The Associated Press.