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Atlantic storm Lee delivers high winds and rain before forecasters call off warnings in some areas

‘Gradual weakening is forecast during the next couple of days, and Lee could dissipate on Tuesday,’ the U.S. National Hurricane Center said

Storm Lee
Chris Crawford, of Mount Desert Island, Maine, films the raging surf near Otter Point in Acadia National Park.Robert F. Bukaty (AP)

Atlantic storm Lee made landfall at near-hurricane strength Saturday, bringing destructive winds, rough surf and torrential rains to New England and Maritime Canada. But officials withdrew some warnings for the region and predicted the storm would disappear early this week.

The U.S. National Hurricane Center said early Sunday that the post-tropical cyclone was about 35 miles (55 kilometers) west of Charlottetown, Prince Edward Island, and about 225 miles (360 kilometers) west of Channel-Port Aux Basques, Newfoundland. The top sustained wind speed had dropped for a third time in 24 hours to 50 mph (85 kph) with some higher gusts expected.

“Gradual weakening is forecast during the next couple of days, and Lee could dissipate on Tuesday,” the hurricane center said.

The center discontinued a tropical storm warning for the coast of Maine late Saturday and reported the Canadian Hurricane Centre had ended its tropical storm warning for New Brunswick and parts of Prince Edward Island.

Storm surges were expected to subside on Sunday after being forecast as up to 3 feet (0.91 meters) on Saturday along coastal areas, the hurricane center said.

A 51-year-old motorist in Searsport, Maine, died Saturday after a large tree limb fell on his vehicle on U.S. Highway 1 during high winds. The limb brought down live power lines and utility workers had to cut power before removing the man, who died later at a hospital, Police Chief Brian Lunt said.

The storm was tracked as moving around 22 mph (35 kph) and expected to proceed northeast, taking the weather system across the Canadian Maritimes. Rainfall was expected to be an additional 1 inch (25 millimeters) or less for portions of eastern Maine, New Brunswick and Nova Scotia, the U.S. storm center said.

A tropical storm warning remained in effect for parts of Nova Scotia, the Magdalen Islands and Prince Edward Island with strong winds possibly leading to downed trees and power outages, the center said.

The post-tropical cyclone was strong enough to cause power outages several hundred miles from its center. At midday Saturday, 11% of electricity customers in Maine lacked power, along with 27% of Nova Scotia, 8% of New Brunswick and 3% of Prince Edward Island.

Life-threatening surf swells and rip currents generated by Lee may affect Puerto Rico, Hispaniola, the Turks and Caicos Islands, the Bahamas, Bermuda and the U.S. East Coast, the center said.

In Bar Harbor, Maine, the touristy gateway to Acadia National Park, a whale watch vessel broke free of its mooring and crashed ashore Saturday. Authorities worked to offload 1,800 gallons (6,813 liters) of diesel fuel to prevent it from spilling into the ocean.

Lee flooded coastal roads in Nova Scotia and took ferries out of service while fanning anxiety in a region still reeling from wildfires and severe flooding this summer. The province’s largest airport, Halifax Stanfield International, cancelled all flights.

“People are exhausted,” said Pam Lovelace, a councilor in Halifax. “It’s so much in such a small time period.”

Hurricane-force winds extended as far as 140 miles (220 kilometers) from Lee’s center, with tropical storm-force winds extending as far as 320 miles (515 kilometers), enough to cover all of Maine and much of Maritime Canada.

The storm skirted some of the most waterlogged areas of Massachusetts that experienced severe flash flooding days earlier, when fast water washed out roads, caused sinkholes, damaged homes and flooded vehicles.

In eastern Maine, winds died down enough by late afternoon Saturday for utility workers to begin using bucket trucks to make repairs. Central Maine Power and Versant Power had hundreds of workers, including out-of-state crews, assisting the effort.

“At this point, the storm is resembling a nor’easter,” said Sarah Thunberg, a National Weather Service meteorologist, referring to the fall and winter storms that often plague the region and are so named because their winds blow from the northeast. They typically have a much wider wind field than tropical systems with winds remaining closer to a storm’s center.

The entire region has experienced an especially wet summer, ranking second in the number of rainy days in Portland, Maine — and Lee’s high winds toppled trees stressed by the rain-soaked ground in Maine, the nation’s most heavily wooded state.

Cruise ships found refuge at berths in Portland, Maine, while lobstermen in Bar Harbor and elsewhere pulled traps from the water and hauled boats inland.

Billy Bob Faulkingham, House Republican leader of the Maine Legislature, and another lobsterman survived after their boat overturned while hauling traps ahead of the storm Friday, officials said.

The boat’s emergency locator beacon alerted authorities and the pair clung to the hull until help arrived, said Winter Harbor Police Chief Danny Mitchell. The 42-foot (12.8-meter) boat sank.

“They’re very lucky to be alive,” Mitchell said.

Forecasters urged residents to stay home, but many ventured out anyway.

Betsy Follansbee and her husband, Fred, jogged to Higgins Beach in Scarborough, Maine, to watch surfers — some wearing helmets — paddling out to catch waves reaching 12 feet (3.6 meters). They were the biggest waves Follansbee had seen in her 10 years living there, she said.

“We’re impressed that they’re bold enough to try,” Follansbee said.

On Maine’s Bailey Island, a slender spit jutting into the Gulf of Maine, Ren Renton watched the ocean roil. “It comes and goes and takes what it wants, but hopefully not too much,” she said.

Lee shared some characteristics with 2012′s Superstorm Sandy. Both storms were once-strong hurricanes that became post-tropical cyclones — cyclonic storms that have lost most of their tropical characteristics — before landfall. Lee was not expected to be nearly as destructive as Sandy, which caused billions of dollars in damage and was blamed for dozens of deaths in New York and New Jersey.

Lee also was not anywhere near as severe as the remnants of Hurricane Fiona, which a year ago washed houses into the ocean in eastern Canada, knocked out power to most of two provinces and swept a woman into the sea, Canadian meteorologist Jill Maepea said.

Destructive hurricanes are relatively rare so far north. The Great New England Hurricane of 1938 brought gusts as high as 186 mph (300 kph) and sustained winds of 121 mph (195 kph) at Massachusetts’ Blue Hill Observatory. There have been no storms that powerful in recent years.

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