By Chris Keane
NAGS HEAD, N.C., July 4 (Reuters) - Hurricane Arthur hit the North Carolina coast early on Friday and then weakened as it moved out to sea, causing no deaths or injuries but spoiling the Independence Day holiday for thousands of Americans.
Arthur, the first hurricane of the Atlantic season, struck land at the southern end of North Carolina's Outer Banks at 11:15 p.m. on Thursday (0315 GMT Friday). It rattled vacation homes, flooded roads and cut off island communities from the mainland.
Top sustained winds of 100 miles per hour (160 kph) earned Arthur a Category 2 status on the five-step Saffir-Simpson scale. It weakened to a Category 1 as it moved northeast into the Atlantic Ocean with 90-mile per hour (145-kph) top sustained winds.
"This has been a very good day. There have been no casualties or serious injuries reported," North Carolina Governor Pat McCrory said at a news conference in Raleigh.
He said there was minimal damage on the North Carolina coast. About 44,000 people were without power, with outages reported on Ocracoke Island and the Morehead City area.
North Carolina's beaches were open, McCrory said. Thousands of Independence Day beachgoers had been ordered off the low-lying islands ahead of the storm or had left voluntarily, as the storm disrupted July Fourth festivities and fireworks.
The U.S. Weather Service's National Hurricane Center said the storm was about 130 miles (205 km) east of Norfolk, Virginia, at 9 a.m. (1300 GMT) and moving northeast at 23 mph.
Arthur is expected to skirt the U.S. coast and pass southeast of Massachusetts' Cape Cod on Friday evening, the center said. It is expected to be near or over the Canadian province of Nova Scotia early on Saturday.
Kathleen O'Neal, owner of Island Artworks on Ocracoke Island, said she could feel her house lift up as the storm passed overhead.
"It was very bad here," she said, adding that many trees had been knocked down and part of a neighbor's roof had been pulled off.
Residents began clearing downed trees with chain saws at about 6:30 a.m. Thousands of tourists were wandering around looking at damage, she said.
On Hatteras Island, Paul Jones, a retired Maryland state police helicopter pilot, said Arthur's winds had shaken his house until pictures fell off the walls.
"My wind meter was destroyed ... it stopped at 85 (mph) somewhere around 2 o'clock in the morning," he added.
Emergency management officials in Dare County, which includes Cape Hatteras, said there was some flooding and scattered power outages.
McCrory said Highway 12, the 50-mile (80-km) road connecting Hatteras Island to the mainland, had been flooded and covered with sand in some areas.
Tourists and some residents had packed ferries and crowded Highway 12 as people were ordered off the North Carolina barrier islands, though some people stayed behind to look after their homes.
Arthur is the first hurricane to hit the United States since Superstorm Sandy devastated parts of New York and New Jersey in October 2012, causing an estimated $70 billion in damage.
Tropical storm warnings or watches were in effect from North Carolina to Canada's Prince Edward Island. Arthur is expected to become a post-tropical cyclone on Friday night or Saturday, the National Hurricane Center said.
North Carolina was putting heavy equipment in place to remove sand and overwash quickly after Arthur passed. Hundreds of military and state police officials were deployed to help with storm preparation, safety and evacuation efforts. (Additional reporting by Gene Cherry in Raleigh, North Carolina; David Adams in Miami, Ted Siefer in New Hampshire, Richard Weizel in Connecticut, and Sandra Maler in Washington, D.C.; Writing by David Adams and Eric M. Johnson; Editing by James Dalgleish and Leslie Adler)