HATTERAS, N.C. – Ophelia finally took leave of North Carolina on Friday, downgraded to a tropical storm but picking up speed for a possible run-in with the southeastern New England coast.

The storm left behind plenty of damage along North Carolina’s southern coast, including beach erosion and ravaged homes and businesses, but overall the region was spared the devastating blow that some feared when Ophelia first brushed the coast Tuesday.

One risk modeling company estimated on Friday that losses would top out at $800 million.

“There wasn’t much to it,” said lifelong Hatteras resident Allen Fagley, 54. “We were really blessed. … We had a potential to be neck-deep where we’re standing.”

Ophelia, which meandered north after forming off the Florida coast last week, was offshore again, moving north-northeast at about 8 mph, the National Hurricane Center said. At 2 p.m. EDT, Ophelia was centered about 415 miles south-southwest of Massachusetts’ Nantucket island.

A tropical storm warning was posted Friday for Rhode Island’s coast and southeastern Massachusetts, including Nantucket and Martha’s Vineyard. The warning meant tropical-storm force winds of 39 mph or higher were expected within 24 hours.

Ophelia was expected to pass southeast of Nantucket, but forecasters watched for a possible turn northward, which could bring more severe weather to Massachusetts, and coastal campgrounds were cleared as a precaution.

Stuart Smith, the harbormaster in Chatham, Mass., on the elbow off Cape Cod, said fishermen were moving their boats to sheltered waters on Friday. Meanwhile, his patrol boats were checking remaining boats for loose moorings or debris.

Smith said the storm looks to be the equivalent of a strong winter Nor’easter and isn’t causing any panic. But full moon tides, with many boats still left in the water, created some cause for concern.

“These things are extremely difficult to forecast, and Ophelia has been a pain in the neck from the beginning,” said Mike Jackson, a meterologist with the National Weather Service.

The storm took its time off the North Carolina coast, where its effects were felt for three days, slowing to a near-complete stop at one point, battering beaches with high winds and giant waves.

On Friday, power was still off at about 9,000 homes and businesses throughout eastern North Carolina.

Roads on Hatteras Island, a main link in the Outer Banks chain of barrier islands, sat under water inches deep, though the island was otherwise largely unscathed.

Coastal Carteret County appeared to have suffered the most. In the busy tourist area of Atlantic Beach, workers at restaurants and other businesses were cleaning up, stacking chairs and tables outside in the sunlight and piling debris from battered roofs into trucks to be hauled away. On one strip of stores, the metal underlay of a roof sat exposed.

Nearby in Morehead City, an ambulance parked next to a road sported a sign that read: “WE NEED ELECTRICITY PLEASE.”

“This is our communication line to the world right now,” said Marci Wilson, manager of a private ambulance company, as she pulled out a personal cell phone and laughed.

“We’re trying to be patient but when my ambulances leave here I have no way to get up with them,” she said.

Gov. Mike Easley toured the central coast near Morehead City, saying the storm was not a “tremendous disaster” but had devastated some areas.

“To those who lost their home, lost their property, it is a big disaster,” he said.

Environmental officials worried about erosion.

“It kept grinding away at the beaches,” said Chris Carlson, of the state Department of Environment and Natural Resources.

At Wilmington’s Wrightsville Beach, yellow tape blocked beach access at the end of one street, keeping people from an 8-foot drop where Ophelia had eaten away at the sand.

AIR Worldwide Corp., a risk-modeling firm based in Boston, said Ophelia’s slow speed spread damage over a large area, mostly roof shingles, awnings and the like, along with damage from fallen trees and power outages.

Ophelia is the 15th named storm and seventh named hurricane of this year’s busy Atlantic season, which ends Nov. 30.

Associated Press writers Kristen Gelineau reported from Hatteras and Paul Nowell from Wilmington. Margaret Lillard in Morehead City and Martha Waggoner in Beaufort also contributed to this report.

On the Net:

National Hurricane Center: http://www.nhc.noaa.gov

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