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This satellite image taken Wednesday at 1:45 a.m. ET shows clouds and showers associated with a tropical depression spreading across the eastern Gulf of Mexico. ((Weather Underground/Associated Press))

BP has put a temporary stop to the drilling of a relief well in the Gulf of Mexico as a tropical depression moves toward the site.

But the latest weather bulletin suggests the storm may weaken before it becomes a major threat.

Officials said Wednesday the drilling, which has just nine to 15 metres to go, is being put on hold for two or three days.

A tropical storm warning is in effect for the coastal area from Destin, Fla., west to New Orleans, as well as for much of the area of the spill.

The National Hurricane Center, in a bulletin released at 2 p.m. ET Wednesday, said the depression still has maximum sustained winds of 45 km/h with higher gusts.

But it now says the depression is "disorganized" and "could dissipate later today."

'Bottom kill'

The relief well is designed to be the final stage of a two-part solution to permanently plug the offshore well that blew out four months ago, spewing 4.9 million barrels of oil in the Gulf of Mexico.

Once drilling resumes, the relief well will quickly intercept the broken well deep under the seabed. Crews will then inject mud and cement into the well in a "bottom kill" manoeuvre designed to make sure no more oil escapes.

Last week, BP put a plug into the top of the damaged well. That appears to be holding.

Retired Coast Guard admiral Thad Allen, the U.S. government's point man on the spill, said officials have begun to remove some of the booms that were in place to prevent oil from reaching the coasts in parts of Florida, Alabama and Mississippi.

The booms will be kept ready for quick redeployment should that become necessary.

On Tuesday, federal waters off the Florida Panhandle were reopened to commercial and recreational fishing.

With files from The Associated Press