(Updates forecast, earliest hurricane to hit North Carolina)
By Chris Keane
NAGS HEAD, N.C., July 4 (Reuters) - Hurricane Arthur slammed the North Carolina coast early on Friday and 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 km per hour) 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-mph (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 100 miles (160 km) east of Ocean City, Maryland, at 11 a.m. (1500 GMT) and moving northeast at 24 mph.
Todd Kimberlain, a forecaster with the National Hurricane Center, said the storm would lose force as it moved northeast into colder waters. "It's going to weaken here, and it is already," he said.
Arthur is expected to pass southeast of Massachusetts's Cape Cod on Friday evening, the center said. It is forecast 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. Officials expect to have the road open by late on Sunday.
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 earliest hurricane to hit the North Carolina coast on record, said Dennis Feltgen, a spokesman for the National Hurricane Center.
It 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 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.
(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 Ian Simpson; Editing by James Dalgleish and Leslie Adler)