A tropical depression came ashore in the Florida panhandle Friday evening but spared Louisiana and Mississippi, two coastal states ravaged by hurricanes in 2005.

The depression maintained the same intensity as it made landfall near Fort Walton Beach in the panhandle. Forecasters downgraded the threat as it moved ashore.

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

Tropical storm warnings stretching from Apalachicola, Fla., to the mouth of the Mississippi, including New Orleans, were discontinued by the weather service.

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

However, officials remained wary of dangers posed by strong winds in areas rebuilding following the devastating hurricanes Katrina and Rita two years ago.

In New Orleans, where thousands still live in trailers, officials had taken precautions by opening shelters and issuing sandbags.

Earlier, the governors in Louisiana and Mississippi had declared states of emergency.

Spawned tornado

The system became a tropical depression early Friday after spawning a tornado that injured two people and damaged about 50 homes in central Florida.

With winds close to 170 km/h, the tornado hit the town of Eustis, about 50 kilometres northwest of Orlando, late Thursday, ripping the roofs off homes and downing trees and electricity lines. About 20 homes were badly damaged, said local news reports.

Television news footage showed a boat overturned in a yard, a toppled mobile home and uprooted trees. About 100 people remained without electricity by early afternoon, but power was expected to be restored by sundown, officials said.

Forecasters said the system is expected to move northwest 14 km/h with maximum sustained winds near 55 km/h. Five to 15 centimetres of rain was expected.

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

Ivo downgraded

In the Pacific, Hurricane Ivo was downgraded to a tropical storm Friday afternoon.

It is expected to plow into a desolate part of southern Baja California on Monday.
Authorities in the resort of Cabo San Lucas, Mexico, began advising residents to buy water and food.

The area was hit Sept. 4 by hurricane Henriette, which killed 10 people and destroyed about 2,000 homes.

With files from the Associated Press