THE first hurricane of the Atlantic season has hit the North Carolina coast, a wet and windy spoiler of the July 4 holiday for thousands of Americans as authorities ordered them to evacuate exposed areas.

Hurricane Arthur crossed the coast near Cape Lookout at the southern end of North Carolina's Outer Banks with maximum sustained winds of 100mph (160 kph). Arthur is the first hurricane to hit the US since Superstorm Sandy devastated parts of New York and New Jersey in October 2012 and caused £50bn in estimated damage.

More than 20,000 customers were without power near North Carolina's coast as Arthur rushed through.

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The storm disrupted Independence Day festivities and fireworks for holiday beachgoers and others ordered off low-lying North Carolina barrier islands in its reaches.

Tourists and some residents packed ferries and crowded the only highway off Ocracoke and Hatteras islands, where voluntary and mandatory evacuations were in effect, though some people stayed behind to look after their homes.

North Carolina officials warned of life-threatening rip currents and a storm surge of up to 5ft that could render the narrow 50-mile Highway 12 connecting Hatteras Island to the mainland impassable.

Part of the highway was washed out by storm surge for two months after Superstorm Sandy, forcing people to use ferries to reach the mainland.

North Carolina was putting extra heavy equipment in place to remove sand and the overwash as soon as possible after Arthur passes. Hundreds of military and state police officials were deployed to help.