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Hermine drifts from East Coast, batters shore with waves

NORFOLK, Va. — Tropical Storm Hermine spun away from the East Coast on Sunday, removing the threat of heavy rain but maintaining enough power to whip up dangerous waves and rip currents and keep beaches off-limits to disappointed swimmers and surfers during the Labor Day weekend.

As it churned hundreds of miles from shore in the Atlantic Ocean, the system picked up strength, and forecasters said it could regain hurricane force later as it travels up the coast. It was expected to stall over the water before weakening again to a tropical storm by Tuesday.

"It's just going to meander for a few days," said Dennis Feltgen of the National Hurricane Center, explaining that Hermine was unlikely to make landfall again but was positioned to batter the coast with wind and waves.

Governors along the Eastern Seaboard announced emergency preparations. Tropical storm watches and warnings were in effect from Virginia to Massachusetts, with special concern focused on New Jersey and Delaware, where Rehoboth Beach could experience gusts up to 50 mph and life-threatening storm surges during high tide late Sunday and into today.

On the Virginia Beach boardwalk, the Atlantic Ocean roared with uncharacteristically large waves, drawing only a couple of surfers into the choppy water. But hundreds, if not thousands of people, had descended onto the beach for the traditional last weekend of summer. Umbrellas and canopies dotted the sand under partly sunny skies.

Hermine failed to stop Barb and Don Willis of Buffalo, N.Y., from enjoying the trip they booked months ago. They even braved the Chesapeake Bay Bridge Tunnel on Saturday as the wind whipped their car and the bay rose close to the bridge's bottom.

"That was so scary," Barb Willis said. "Oh, my God. My hands were white knuckles, and the water was so high. It was horrible."

The couple, both in their 60s, said they knew the storm would blow over, even as friends texted their concerns.

Tropical storm-force winds were possible today in New Jersey. Gov. Chris Christie warned that minor to moderate flooding was still likely in coastal areas and said the storm will cause major problems, even as it tracks away from land.

Hermine rose up over the Gulf of Mexico and hit Florida on Friday as a Category 1 hurricane before weakening to a tropical storm across Georgia.

It has caused two deaths, inflicted widespread property damage and knocked out power to hundreds of thousands of people from Florida to Virginia.

At 8 p.m. Sunday, Hermine's top sustained winds were steady at 70 mph as it moved east-northeast at 5 mph. The storm was centered about 370 miles east of Ocean City, Md.

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