Hurricane will keep Bush, Cheney from attending party convention

The White House says President Bush and his vice president will not be attending the Republican National Convention because the gathering begins Monday, when Hurricane Gustav is set to strike Louisiana and other Gulf Coast states.

Faced with the prospect of a monster storm hitting the U.S. Gulf Coast this week, President George W. Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney will not be attending the Republican National Convention, the White House has announced.

The two men will not travel to St. Paul, Minn., on Monday for the start of the four-day convention to anoint Republican presidential candidate John McCain because that's when Hurricane Gustav is expected to strike Louisiana and other Gulf Coast states.

Bush called state leaders in Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama and Texas in the early morning from the White House, spokesman Scott Stanzel said. Those states are in the path of the hurricane, which swept through the Caribbean last week, killing about 80 people.

Gustav is a Category 3 hurricane on the Saffir-Simpson Scale. Forecasters believe its centre will make landfall just west of New Orleans on Monday. By then, it could be a Category 4 or even reach the top of the five-category scale.

There are fears the storm surge could break through the same levees that failed three years ago and swamp the city, repeating the disastrous conditions left by Hurricane Katrina.

On Sunday afternoon, McCain ordered most of the Republican convention's activities suspended for Monday, the first day of the gathering. Earlier on Sunday, he told Fox News there might be changes to the tone of the gathering because of the approaching storm.

"It just wouldn't be appropriate to have a festive occasion while a near-tragedy or a terrible challenge is presented in the form of a natural disaster, so we're monitoring it from day to day and I'm saying a few prayers, too," he said.

McCain and his running mate, Sarah Palin, visited Jackson, Miss., on Sunday to observe storm preparations.

With files from the Associated Press