La., Miss. Dodge Tropical Weather

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By BECKY BOHRER
The Associated Press
Friday, September 21, 2007; 11:24 PM

NEW ORLEANS -- A tropical depression came ashore in the Florida panhandle Friday, sparing coastal Louisiana and Mississippi the first serious brush with tropical weather since two hurricanes laid waste to the area in 2005.

Forecasters downgraded the threat when the storm system moved ashore near Fort Walton Beach in the panhandle with top sustained winds of 35 mph.

"We expect it to move over land and weaken," said Eric Blake, a hurricane specialist for the National Hurricane Center in Miami.

The weather service discontinued tropical storm warnings that had stretched from Apalachicola, Fla., to the mouth of the Mississippi River, including metropolitan New Orleans.

"Everybody's dodging (the proverbial bullet) right now," said Bob Wagner, a weather service meteorologist in Slidell, La.

Late Friday night, the system was moving northwest near 9 mph with maximum sustained winds near 30 mph. Two to 4 inches of rain was expected, and as much as 6 inches in some areas.

Isolated tornadoes were possible in southwestern Georgia, the Florida panhandle and southeastern Alabama throughout the night.

Residents throughout the region devastated by the hurricanes had kept a wary eye on the storm.

Sandy Pallon, 59, wasn't taking any chances. She lives in Biloxi, Miss., in a FEMA trailer park on a treeless gravel lot where an elementary school stood before Katrina. She loaded up her sport utility vehicle Friday and prepared to go to her mother's house in Hattiesburg.

"I went through the other," she said, referring to Katrina, "and I definitely don't want to go through that again."

Larry Hesler, a retired fisherman who lives in a government trailer on a weedy lot where his sister's home used to stand in east Biloxi, said he won't worry about this storm unless the winds top 60 mph.

"Once you've been through Katrina, it's got to be pretty bad to scare you off," the 63-year-old Hesler said.


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© 2007 The Associated Press

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