Bonnie weakens, downgraded

Tropical Storm Bonnie weakened as
it slogged across south Florida Friday, prompting U.S. forecasters to downgrade
the system to a tropical depression as it took aim at the energy-rich Gulf of
Mexico.

The U.S. National Hurricane Center
reclassified the short-lived tropical cyclone after its top sustained winds
decreased to near 35 miles per hour.

There was a chance Bonnie could
regain tropical storm strength as it moves out over the Gulf of Mexico Friday
evening, but the Miami-based hurricane center said the current environment in
the Gulf made that unlikely.

The storm has been on a track
expected to take it over the site of BP Plc’s deepwater oil spill after its
trek across Florida.

Oil and natural gas producers in
the energy-rich Gulf were evacuating offshore workers earlier Friday, and the
U.S. government said 28.3 per cent of Gulf oil production and 10.4 per cent of
gas output had been shut down ahead of the storm.

Two rigs drilling relief wells
intended to permanently plug BP’s deepwater Gulf oil gusher were preparing to
move out of Bonnie’s path Friday.

The evacuation could push back BP’s
mid-August target date for ending the worst oil spill in U.S. history, but the
blown-out Macondo well will remain capped during the halt in operations.

Bonnie, which had packed top
sustained winds of about 40 miles  per
hour, doused much of south Florida with heavy rains as it moved across the peninsula.

There were no reports of
significant damage or storm surge.

With only a slight chance of
intensification, Bonnie was not expected to become a hurricane. It was due to
make landfall again anywhere between the Louisiana coast and Florida’s
northwest Panhandle early Sunday morning.

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