A powerful hurricane that caused widespread damage in the Caribbean is weakening as it moves up the East Coast of the United States Friday afternoon. The storm named Earl has been downgraded to a Category 1 hurricane after battering the Outer Banks of North Carolina. Now, residents in coastal areas of New York, New Jersey and Massachusetts are preparing for strong winds and possible flooding as the storm steadily moves north.

Forecasters say hurricane Earl is losing steam as it barrels up the U.S. East Coast Friday afternoon, with sustained winds around 135 kilometers per hour Friday afternoon. The U.S. National Hurricane Center said Earl could weaken to a tropical storm, packing winds of about 88 kilometers per hour as it passes some 350 kilometers southeast of Montuak on the eastern end of Long Island late Friday.

In New York and New Jersey, forecasts call for strong bands of rain and whipping wind. Area beaches have been closed and in order to deal with strong currents and possible flooding. The Long Island Rail Road has canceled service at the eastern end of the island.

The director of the Federal Emergency Management Agency, Craig Fugate, said his teams are ready to assist with rescue and recovery if needed. "We have teams in all the coastal states ready to support all the way up to the New England states. We are not going to wait until things get bad. We've already got supplies going into Fort Bragg just in case they are needed. Down in North Carolina we have supplies going up to Massachusetts just in case its needed there. Our role is to support the governors but we are not going to wait for them to ask. If we think they need it we are going to make sure it is ready to go," he said.

Experts say the storm could have been far worse for the United States, but the eye of the storm stayed far off shore and has now disintegrated. The strong rip currents and wind have caused many people to amend plans to go to the beach for Labor Day weekend - a holiday in the United States.

The storm forced tens of thousands of people to flee the Outer Banks of North Carolina, a thin strip of barrier reef islands stretching into the Atlantic Ocean. That state's governor has already declared a state of emergency, paving the way for federal funds to help with cleanup.