Hurricane Earl Brushes Carolina Coast; Warnings Issued for Massachusetts

VIDEO: People along the Atlantic coast brace for the Category 3 hurricane.
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Hurricane Earl passed east of North Carolina's Outer Banks this evening, sending bands of wind and rain raking over the North Carolina coast.

Though it was downgraded this evening to a Category 2 storm and forecast to weaken slowly as it moved northward, officials up and down the East Coast still were bracing for a powerful punch.

By 11 p.m. ET, Earl was about 115 miles south-southeast of Cape Hatteras, N.C., according to the National Hurricane Center (NOAA). The eye of the storm was expected to stay offshore for now.

VIDEO: People along the Atlantic coast brace for the Category 3 hurricane.
Hurricane Earl Coming Ashore

President Obama signed an emergency disaster declaration for Massachusetts late Thursday. Earlier, Massachusetts Gov. Deval Patrick declared a state of emergency ahead of the storm after officials extended a hurricane warning to the state's southern coast. He said the declaration will help Massachusetts respond to the storm, expected to pass the area late Friday into Saturday.

Rhode Island Gov. Donald Carcieri made a similar emergency declaration, The Associated Press reported.

In neighboring Connecticut, Gov. M. Jodi Rell asked President Obama to issue a pre-landfall declaration of emergency to ensure federal funding help with the storm response.

At 11 p.m., tropical storm warnings or watches were extended up the Massachussetts and Maine coasts and into Canada, according to NOAA.

Watch "World News with Diane Sawyer" for the latest on Earl tonight on ABC.

VIDEO: Massachusetts braces for what could be the worst hurricane since 1991.
Earl: Mass.'s Biggest Hurricane in 19 Years?

As of this evening, the storm was nearly 400 miles wide, tracking northward at 18 mph. With its maximum sustained winds up to 105 miles per hour at around 11 p.m., Earl was not as strong as it was this morning, when 145 mph winds made it a powerful Category 4 storm.

"The intensity of the storm is expected to weaken," Bill Reid of the National Hurricane Center told ABC's Diane Sawyer tonight on "World News." "And the winds will start spreading out into a larger and larger area."

The National Hurricane Center also is watching other storms following Earl, including Fiona and Gaston, which is most likely a concern for next week.

Exclusive Footage: Hurricane Earl
Exclusive Footage of Hurricane Earl

President Obama is "closely monitoring" the situation and "aggressively preparing" for Earl's potential impact, the White House said today.

Late Wednesday night, Obama signed a pre-landfall emergency declaration for North Carolina, clearing the way for federal aid to help supplement state and local efforts and resources.

Already, the Federal Emergency Management Agency has sent supplies to North Carolina and Massachusetts. Roughly 400,000 liters of water, 300,000 meals, and 54 generators have been dispatched to Ft. Bragg, N.C., while over 200,000 meals and 162,000 liters of water have been sent to Westover, Mass.

VIDEO: East coast residents are cautiously anxious about the strengthening hurricane.
Long Island, Cape Cod Brace for Hurricane Earl

The American Red Cross has dispatched more than 350 disaster workers to North Carolina, Massachusetts and Rhode Island to staff shelters.

Hurricane Warnings Throughout Northeast

This morning, forecasters expanded a hurricane warning to parts of southern Bristol and Plymouth counties in Massachusetts. The forecasters on Wednesday issued the warning for Cape Cod and neighboring islands.

On Wednesday, both North Carolina and Virginia declared states of emergency, and officials ordered mandatory evacuations in parts of the state.

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