(Recasts, adds details, quotes)

By Jane Sutton

MIAMI (Reuters) - Hurricane Earl churned on a path
toward the North Carolina coast of the eastern U.S. seaboard
Tuesday after lashing Puerto Rico and northeast Caribbean islands
with winds, rain and waves, the U.S. National Hurricane Center
said.

The forecast track of Earl, the second major hurricane of
the 2010 Atlantic season, showed the fringes of the powerful
Category 4 storm clipping North Carolina's Outer Banks barrier
islands early on Friday and also threatening the U.S. coast
northward from there.

"Interests from the Carolinas northward to New England
should monitor the progress of Earl," the Miami-based hurricane
center said.

Barry Baxter, a hurricane center meteorologist, said
forecasters had nudged the storm's track slightly to the west
overnight but still had it narrowly missing a direct full-on
impact to the U.S. coast.

"It's still staying off the coast at this point for the
whole eastern U.S.," Baxter said.

He declined to predict how close the hurricane would come to
New York when it churned offshore east of the city at the
weekend.

"We just don't know," Baxter said. "It's too early at this
point. We're just telling everybody to keep their eyes on the
track and just keep checking back."

He said the NHC expected the hurricane to stop just short
of becoming a maximum Category 5 storm on the five-step
Saffir-Simpson intensity scale.

Nevertheless, forecasters say Earl is expected to bring
drenching rain, dangerous seas and surf and gusting wind to the
Atlantic Coast from North Carolina to New England and Canada.

Earl, with top sustained winds close to 135 miles per hour
, was moving away from Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands
Tuesday and would cross the open Atlantic east of the Turks and
Caicos Islands, the hurricane center said.

At 9 a.m., it was located about 230 miles
east of Grand Turk Island in the Turks and Caicos, a British
overseas territory.

Tropical storm warnings and watches were in effect for the
Turks and Caicos and the southeastern Bahamas.

Hurricane Earl poses no threat to major U.S. oil and gas
installations in the Gulf of Mexico.

PUERTO RICO NOT DIRECTLY HIT

Through Monday, Earl had battered the northeastern
Caribbean islands and Puerto Rico, downing power lines, blowing
off some house roofs, toppling trees and causing some flooding.
There were no immediate reports of casualties.

"We have been quite fortunate. We did not take a direct hit
... it was not as serious as it could have been," Puerto Rico
Governor Luis Fortuno told CNN.

Tropical storm Fiona is following in the wake of Earl on a
similar expected track. At 8 a.m. EST Fiona was
located about 500 miles east of the Caribbean Leeward
Islands with maximum sustained winds of 40 mph, moving on
a course that was expected to take it northeast of the Leeward
Islands Wednesday. Most of the forecast models did not see
Fiona entering the Gulf of Mexico.

A broad area of low pressure about 400 miles
southwest of the Cape Verde Islands in the eastern Atlantic had
only a 10 percent chance of becoming a tropical cyclone during the
next 48 hours, the hurricane center said.

Early computer models showed that system moving mostly west in
the Atlantic but toward South America, not the energy-rich Gulf.
(For more information about hurricanes and weather models, see:
http://www.reuters.com/subjects/hurricanes;
http://www.nhc.noaa.gov/ and http://www.skeetobiteweather.com/)
(Reporting by Jane Sutton, Tom Brown and Pascal Fletcher in
Miami, Eileen Moustakis in New York; Editing by Pascal Fletcher
and Bill Trott)