(Updates with latest storm advisory; quotes)
By Colleen Jenkins and Gene Cherry
July 2 (Reuters) - Tropical Storm Arthur threatened to douse some July Fourth holiday plans on the U.S. East Coast as officials closed beaches and tourist sites and delayed fireworks shows in anticipation of heavy rain and fierce winds.
The first named storm of the Atlantic hurricane season (http://link.reuters.com/baw32w) was forecast to reach hurricane strength by Thursday, leaving some local businesses worried about taking a financial hit and vacationers wondering if they should nix their beach trips.
Local officials predicted the storm would have little impact on tourism spending. Dave Dawson, owner of the Cape Hatteras Motel on North Carolina's Hatteras Island, which was in the storm's path, said he had no cancellations despite predictions of a soaked holiday.
"Most of the calls I am getting are just wanting to make sure they can still come," Dawson said. "And of course, at this time you don't know what to tell them."
Tropical storm warnings and hurricane watches were in effect along North Carolina's coast, while the National Hurricane Center lifted a tropical storm watch for Florida with Arthur expected to pass well east of the state's northeast coast Wednesday night.
U.S. forecasters warned the storm could produce dangerous rip currents along the coasts of several Southern states, dump up to 2 inches (5 cm) of rain across the eastern Florida peninsula and coastal North Carolina, and cause flooding as the result of storm surge.
Several towns and villages on North Carolina's Outer Banks and coast rescheduled Independence Day festivities and fireworks plans as the storm moved north at 7 miles per hour (11 km per hour).
North Carolina Governor Pat McCrory declared a state of emergency on Wednesday for 25 eastern counties to help prepare for possible damage. A voluntary evacuation order was issued for low-lying Ocracoke Island, a popular summer tourist destination reached only by ferry or plane.
"It doesn't look like it is going to be anything too bad," said Hyde County Commissioner John Fletcher. "We might get a little water from flooding."
The storm remained out at sea with maximum sustained winds of 60 mph (95 kph) on Wednesday, about 110 miles (175 km) east-northeast of Cape Canaveral, Florida, and 235 miles (380 km) south of Charleston, South Carolina.
Arthur could be packing hurricane force winds of 85 mph (135 kph) when the outer bands brush the Carolinas on Thursday and Friday before weakening, according to the hurricane center's forecast maps.
The National Park Service ordered the evacuation by 5 p.m. (2100 GMT) Wednesday of visitors from the narrow barrier islands of the Cape Lookout National Seashore on North Carolina's central coast.
In the more populous Cape Hatteras National Seashore to the north, where up to 200,000 visitors crowd North Carolina's Hatteras and Ocracoke islands, the park service began closing campgrounds, lighthouses and beaches at noon (1600 GMT) on Wednesday. (Reporting by Colleen Jenkins in Winston-Salem, North Carolina, and Gene Cherry in Raleigh, North Carolina; Additional reporting by David Adams in Miami and Harriet McLeod in Charleston, South Carolina; Editing by Susan Heavey and Eric Beech)
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