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Warnings as hurricane Earl looks to come ashore near Yarmouth, N.S.

Kellie Maier gets splashed by a passing car while kayaking on water covered Highway 12, on September 3, 2010 in Kill Devil Hills, North Carolina. Hurricane Earl was downgraded to a category 2 before brushing the Outer Banks early Friday morning causing minimal damage.

Mark Wilson/Getty Images

A hurricane watch has been issued for Halifax and notice is going out to hundreds of residents in Yarmouth, southwestern Nova Scotia, that they should leave their homes before Hurricane Earl arrives.

The storm had weakened slightly but still packed a punch as it moved up the eastern seaboard. Early Friday Earl's maximum sustained winds were reportedly 169 kilometres per hour.

The latest projection has raised the likelihood that the southwestern tip of Nova Scotia will bear the brunt when Earl comes ashore in the Maritimes. Communities throughout that part of the province are bracing themselves for a powerful hit early Saturday.

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In Yarmouth, Emergency Management Operations head Harold Richardson said Friday morning that they were preparing evacuation warnings for low-lying parts of the community, areas that are home to as many as 400 people.

"We're counting on them to do it on a voluntary basis," he said. "If they don't move, once the storm comes we will not be coming to get them until after the storm passes. We will not put emergency personnel at risk."

The Canadian Hurricane Centre, in its latest update, warned that the storm is expected to bring powerful winds, up to 70 millimetres of rain, "high waves and pounding surf."

"Despite Earl weakening to a [category]2 last night ... indications are that Earl's wind field is expanding," the hurricane centre said in their Friday morning statement. "Also the abnormally hot and humid airmass over the Maritimes Will allow Earl to hold onto its tropical character."

Farther down the coast, governors in Massachusetts and Rhode Island declared states of emergency, joining North Carolina, Virginia and Maryland.

Click here for the latest view of the storm's path from NOAA

The local benchmark for the power of nature is Hurricane Juan, which come ashore in 2003 as a strong category 1 hurricane. That storm tore into Halifax, causing hundreds of millions in damages and leading to the deaths of eight people. Since then every approaching hurricane sets off speculation of whether its punch could make it "another Juan," and sparks a mix of hard-won concern and cynicism.

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"It was like a battlefield," said Haligonian Allan Robertson, describing that storm's effect in the city's Point Pleasant Park, which lost an estimated three-quarters of its 100,000 trees. He was in the country Thursday, securing his cottage property and taking no chances.

But in the seven years since Juan, no storm has fulfilled the worst-case scenario. Now even some of those near Earl's projected path dismiss it as probably nothing not much to worry about. Among them are people connected with a biker rally in Digby, N.S., which was expected to peak Saturday at about 25,000 people.

"We've seen forecasts before like this that have come to nothing," said Glenn Dunn, chairman of the event's board. "The rally will not be cancelled."

Biker Bob Martin, whose property in the outskirts of Halifax sustained damage in Juan, said he had heard reports that the winds are expected to be less severe this time around. And he added that there's no guarantee where or when the storm will hit.

"If it lands at 8 o'clock [Saturday morning]and it's gone by 12 we can go riding," he said. "What if nothing does come by? And say a lot of people didn't show up for the rally and could've had a good time?"

Digby Mayor Ben Cleveland said there were contingency plans to house people in local arenas and community centres. Ramona Jennex, the province's minister responsible for emergency management, said the government had crews there but would clear the area only if the situation became dire.

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"It's a private function … I have no role telling them they can or cannot participate in the event," she said. "If we're in a situation where the extreme weather is hitting … we will declare a state of emergency."

Others haven't needed to be persuaded to take the approaching hurricane seriously.

"The ocean is a powerful thing," said Michael LeBlanc, who lives in the village of Prospect near Halifax and can't forget the "wall of water" he saw coming at him during Juan. "It leaves such frightening memories it'll be embedded in your mind forever."

At the Bedford Basin Yacht Club, where boats were tossed ashore during Juan, vessels were being moved to safety Thursday.

"I'd seen a lot of storms but I'd never seen anything like [Juan]" said David Van Scoyk. "We're very gun-shy here and we're taking it very seriously. [People]should think the worst. Juan came out of nowhere. We knew it was coming but no one expected that severity."

Projections of the hurricane's track remain fluid and communities around southwestern Nova Scotia were making preparations.

In Yarmouth, Harold Richardson, the head of local emergency operations, said the area was expecting a four-metre storm surge. People may need to be evacuated from low-lying areas.

"The problem is we expect this thing to hit at high tide," he said.

Possible landfalls in Canada include the Yarmouth area and Grand Manan Island. But the impact could be diminished by the latest projected track, which has the storm moving over the cooler waters of the Gulf of Maine and the Bay of Fundy.

Surfers were watching keenly, but Keith Clark, owner of Happy Dudes Surf Emporium near Halifax, said the projected route didn't bode well for enthusiasts. There still could be a good turnout on the water Friday, as people chase hurricane swells.

"That's what they're looking for," he said.

With files from AP

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About the Author

Oliver Moore joined the Globe and Mail's web newsroom in 2000 as an editor and then moved into reporting. A native Torontonian, he served four years as Atlantic Bureau Chief and has worked also in Afghanistan, Grenada, France, Spain and the United States. More

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