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      Earl weakens, still powerful, headed to NC

      MIAMI (AP) -- Forecasters say Hurricane Earl has weakened to a Category 2 storm though they warn it is still powerful as it heads toward North Carolina and the Eastern Seaboard.

      The National Hurricane Center says Earl's winds are now at about 110 mph and could weaken further.

      Still, the coast is expected to be lashed by winds of hurricane strength -- more than 74 mph -- for a couple of hours.

      The first bands of heavy rain hit the long ribbon of the Outer Banks Thursday night. The downpours started in several bursts.

      Related Stories More high surf, rip currents as Earl passes SC Report: Climate science panel needs change at top Some bunker down, some flee as Earl approaches US

      North Carolina is the first and potentially most destructive stop on the storm's projected journey up the Eastern Seaboard.

      Hurricane force winds are extending out 70 miles from the center of the storm that is 160 miles south-southeast of Cape Hatteras.

      (Copyright 2010 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)

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