But the storm remained very much a threat as it swirled up the Eastern Seaboard toward Cape Cod.
President Barack Obama declared a state of emergency for Massachusetts to make it easier for the government to provide disaster relief.
Earl sideswiped North Carolina before daybreak, a less menacing storm than it was just a day earlier. Its winds had dropped to 105 mph from 145 mph. And at its closest approach, its centre passed about 137km east of Cape Hatteras – up to 80km farther out than forecasters feared.
Hurricane-force winds, which start at 74 mph, apparently did not reach the Outer Banks, the National Hurricane Centre’s chief forecaster James Franklin said.
“We still think it will be a hurricane when it passes by Cape Cod,” Franklin said.
On the Outer Banks, one to two feet of water covered roads in the community of Buxton on Cape Hatteras.
Carol Dillon said her home in Hatteras was surrounded by water and her daughter lost two cars in a flooded garage.
North Carolina authorities sent teams out at daybreak to assess the damage.
Some 35,000 visitors and residents on the Outer Banks had been urged to leave the dangerously exposed islands.
Forecasters said it would stay 100 to 200 miles off New Jersey and New York’s Long Island but pass very close to Cape Cod and Nantucket Island, Mass., later last night as a Category 2 hurricane.