Ophelia weakens into storm

Hurricane Ophelia weakened into a tropical storm on Thursday after pounding the U.S. east coast for two days and deluging parts of the North Carolina state with as much as 17 inches (43 cm) of rain.

Ophelia was the first hurricane to hit the United States since the far more powerful Katrina killed hundreds on the U.S. Gulf Coast and displaced 1 million people in late August, Reuters reports.

Its top winds dropped to 70 mph (112 kph) on Thursday, down from 85 mph (120 kph) a day earlier.

Ophelia moved so slowly that its winds pummeled the North Carolina coast for two days, snapping trees and power lines and flooding streets.

"It's taking forever to get by us," said Dwight Burrus at the Red & White grocery store that his family has owned on Hatteras Island since 1866.

Ophelia's center was 45 miles (72 km) south-southeast of Cape Hatteras at 8 p.m. (0000 GMT), the National Hurricane Center said.

On Thursday, some 48,000 homes and businesses were without power, less than half the number at the peak of the storm.

Ophelia sent battering waves that ate away at beaches and gobbled up dunes, piling up a surge of seawater that breached coastal roads in several places.

It dumped 17.5 inches (44 cm) of rain on Oak Island off the state's southeast coast, and many areas got more than a foot.

The storm ripped off roofs and shingles, damaged fishing piers and flooded roads and neighborhoods in several beachfront communities. There were a few scattered reports of serious damage to buildings.

See phote report on Hurricane Ophelia in action.

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