Driving rain, whipped by near hurricane-force winds, raked the Atlantic coast from North Carolina to Delaware yesterday as a heavyweight northeaster churned 25-foot seas and sent Coast Guard vessels and aircraft to the assistance of distressed yachts and other water craft.

Wind gusts were clocked at an official 74 miles an hour on Carolina's Outer Banks, and there were reports up and down the coast of heavy flooding of beach resorts, tides running 4 1/2 feet above normal, and power outages that kept utility company crews on duty far into the night.

Gale warnings were posted during the day in Chesapeake Bay, and officials canceled at least four trips of the popular Cape May-Lewes ferry across a choppy Delaware Bay.

Booming surf along the coast sent at least one cottage spilling into the ocean at Kitty Hawk, N.C. and threatened several others with the same fate. The same storm system, meanwhile, was causing the evacuation of dozens of residents in the Bethany Beach, Md., area, but no injuries were reported. Most coastal communities reported that the worst appeared to be over, but that extremely high tides could be expected early today.

The storm had its usual inconveniences. Trees were felled up and down the coast, clogging roads and causing monumental traffic jams in some communities. The storm grew to such an intensity during the day that schools in several sections of the four-state area were closed early.

The storm began over the weekend, and Virginia Electric and Power Co. officials reported that at one point 58,000 customers in almost every section of Tidewater Virginia and 3,000 more on the peninsula were without service as high winds toppled trees onto power lines.

Crews using bulldozers worked late yesterday in the Bethany Beach-Ocean City area, to contain damage to beaches caused by the slashing, wind-driven surf. Authorities in Ocean City reported winds of 58 miles an hour as a Coast Guard crew rescued seven people from a 42-foot sailboat that one Guardsman reported was left "a shambles."