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Earl doesn't lay a glove on Mass.

September 4, 2010 11:53 AM

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Matthew J. Lee/Globe Staff

As the day dawned, Gene Ratner's house on Madaket Beach on Nantucket was still standing. Ratner did lose three 40-ton sandbags that were protecting the home.

NANTUCKET -- Residents of the Cape and islands awoke to patches of blue sky this morning, few downed limbs, little flooding, and head-scratching questions about what had happened to big, bad Earl.

"That was just normal 'winter' weather," said Norm Frazee, as he patrolled the properties of a resort company for downed limbs and other storm-related debris. "We get winds like that almost every day in the winter."

Once a mighty hurricane, Earl weakened into a tropical storm and merely grazed the Cape and islands overnight, causing no major damage or power outages, officials said this morning.

"Simply, there's not any serious damage to assess," said Peter Judge, a spokesman for the Massachusetts Emergency Management Agency. "Really, we're very very fortunate with the ultimate impact of the storm."

Judge said only about 600 people around the state were without power at about 7 a.m., with about a third of them on the Cape and islands.

The Cape, Nantucket, and Martha's Vineyard, the areas most affected by the storm, saw sustained winds of 29 to 35 miles per hour, with gusts ranging from 46 to 57 miles per hour, said National Weather Service meteorologist Neal Strauss. The highest gust was clocked at 58 miles per hour at Hyannis. About 5.07 inches of rain was measured in Yarmouth.

On Nantucket this morning, sunrise walkers ambled through the downtown, cars cruised unimpeded on the island roads, and homes that had seemed in jeopardy in the fragile Madaket section, where the surf remained heavy this morning, appeared to have survived the storm with little damage.

In the harbor, Tropical Storm Earl appeared to have claimed only one capsized boat as a casualty.

Coast Guard Petty Officer Aaron Balazs, looking at the water from the Brant Point station, said the storm appeared to have passed with a minimal, glancing impact.

"We'll assess damages if there are any," Balazs said, "and try to definitely make a run of the aids to navigation to see if they're in place and get the harbor back open."

The hurricane passed 80 to 90 miles south of Nantucket at about 11 p.m. Friday night, about the same time its sustained winds were measured at 69 miles per hour, meaning it had weakened to a tropical storm, Strauss said.

The weather service received only a handful of reports of localized flooding and downed trees, he said.

"For the most part, yes, we did dodge a bullet in southern New England," said Strauss. "The storm tracked south of the area and the most intense eye of the storm passed far enough south of the region that we really did dodge a bullet and only tropical storm conditions were felt across the area."

"It could have been worse. It could have been a lot worse," he said.

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Governor Deval Patrick, speaking at a news conference this morning in front of a diner in Chatham, said he had lifted a state of emergency and encouraged people to come to the seashore and patronize businesses during the holiday weekend.

"The storm, as you know, turned right last night and went out to sea, which is terrific," he said.

He defended the state's extensive preparations for what turned out to be a small storm, saying, "Public safety came first. We had to focus on that and be prepared, and I am really, really proud of how everybody pulled together."

FEMA Administrator Craig Fugate said in a telephone conference call this morning with reporters that "Nobody wanted to take the chance that if the storm had come ashore � we weren't ready to go."

He said preparing extensively for a storm that steers away is "actually the best possible scenario for us." He said he didn't immediately have any figures on how much the storm preparation had cost.

On Martha's Vineyard, in the town of Oak Bluffs, Myrna Orvam of the Bronx, N.Y., was sitting on a bench overlooking the tranquil ocean early this morning.

"It's beautiful. It's calm. It's like nothing happened," she said.

Shelley McThomas, 60, from Kansas City, said she didn't want anyone to get hurt, but, "I wanted to experience 100-mile-an-hour winds."

"Earl petered out. I'm disappointed with Earl, like so many men in my life," she said.

At the Hyannis Marina, workers were busy putting boats back in the water that had been pulled out because of storm fears.

"We're just in motion for getting things back in the water, so people can get on their boats. So we're kind of in full gear right now," said dockmaster Carla Sullivan.

Frank McKenna said he weathered the storm on his boat � in drydock.

"It was a lot better than I expected," he said. "I'll be back on the water, hopefully, in half an hour."

Officials warned that even though the hurricane had passed, the heavy surf it had whipped up could create dangerous rip currents today for bathers hoping to enjoy the holiday weekend. Judge urged people to use "extreme caution" when going to the beach for the next couple of days.

Earl had been a Category 4 hurricane with maximum sustained winds of 145 miles per hour and gusts of up to 180 miles per hour as recently as Thursday morning. But the storm lost its potency on Friday -- and it steered farther to the east of Nantucket than forecasters had expected.

Earl swept north after passing Massachusetts, making landfall in Nova Scotia around 10 a.m., where severe tropical storm conditions affected a large portion of the province. At 11 a.m. , it was about 50 miles west-southwest of Halifax with maximum sustained winds of 70 miles per hour.

Even though Earl's effects seemed to be minimal, some residents weren't ready to gloat.

"I think it was pretty scary," said George Butterworth, as he walked his retriever, Butchy, about 6:30 this morning on Nantucket. "But as it all came out, we were very lucky."

Maria Cramer, Eric Moskowitz, and Erin Ailworth of the Globe staff contributed to this report.

On The Beat

Reporter Brian MacQuarrie is on Nantucket covering the aftermath of Hurricane Earl.
Brian MacQuarrie
breakingnews@globe.com | Twitter | 617-929-3100
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