Republican convention, Florida brace for Isaac

The site of the National Republican Convention showed no signs of a coming deluge Saturday, even as the approaching Tropical Storm Isaac sent officials across the state into full-scale preparation mode.

Florida declares state of emergency after Isaac douses Haiti

The site of the National Republican Convention showed no signs of a coming deluge Saturday, even as the approaching Tropical Storm Isaac sent officials across the state into full-scale preparation mode.

Streets were already shut down around the Tampa Bay Times Forum, where former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney will accept his party's presidential nomination Thursday night.

Law enforcement milled about downtown, and some protests already were under way. One group protesting homelessness and the housing crisis "took over" a foreclosed home by cleaning the yard and planned to help a homeless couple move in.

So far, most people attending the convention seemed to be brushing off any notion of danger, even though Gov. Rick Scott had declared a state of emergency.

Reince Priebus, the chairman of the Republican National Committee, said on Saturday night the convention will convene Monday, then recess until Tuesday afternoon due to Isaac.

Priebus said in a statement the party made the decision after consulting with Scott and federal and local emergency officials.

A tropical storm warning for Isaac has been extended farther up Florida's west coast, north of the Tampa Bay area.

At 11 p.m. EDT on Saturday, the centre of the storm was located about 547 kilometres east-southeast of Key West, Fla.

It was moving northwest at 27 kilometres per hour with maximum sustained winds of 97 kilometres per hour.

"I told some of my Democratic friends, `We are the storm, baby, we are the thunder,"' said Steve Linder, whose business is planning all events for the Michigan delegation. Linder added, smiling, "and it ain't gonna stop until November."

Convention schedule altered

Tampa becomes the second Republican National Convention in a row to be forced to amend its schedule after party officials shortened the 2008 convention due to Hurricane Gustav.

The Tampa area saw a mixture of light rain and mild overcast conditions on Saturday, with sunlight poking through the cloud cover around the time Republican officials announced the changes, said's Andrew Davidson, in Tampa to cover the event.  

"Keep in mind, many convention delegates from across the country have already arrived," Davidson said.

"Floridians are used to seeing the red storm eye approaching them on the TV radar map, but folks from other states sure aren't." 

The amended schedule means addresses by Monday's planned high-profile speakers, including House of Representatives Speaker John Boehner, Ted Cruz, the Alberta-born Senate candidate in Texas, and Mike Huckabee, the former presidential candidate-turned-talk-radio-host, must be folded into other days' lineups.

Convention organizers already had to shuffle their opening-night primetime lineup and move Ann Romney's speech to Tuesday night after the main U.S. television networks announced they would not be showing her remarks live.

"Ann Romney has been a great communicator in campaign stops so far and is widely viewed as the best suited to make her husband's case to the American public," Davidson said.

'I just figure God's got this'

Dianne Joachim of New Richmond, Wisconsin, was in town for her first convention — and vowed not to let Isaac ruin it.

Cuba clears tourist areas

Cuba declared a state of alert Friday for six eastern provinces, according to a Civil Defense announcement read on the afternoon news, and five central provinces were put on preliminary watch. Vacationers in tourist installations of those regions were evacuated. 

Radio Baracoa, from the city of Baracoa on the northern coast of eastern Cuba, reported that high seas began topping the city's seawall Friday night. Reports said lower than normal rains had left reservoirs well below capacity and in good shape to absorb runoff. 

Cuba has a highly organized civil defence system that goes door-to-door to enforce evacuations of at-risk areas, largely averting casualties from storms even when they cause major flooding and significant damage to crops. 

"I just figure God's got this," she said as she arrived at her downtown hotel.

The governor said during a media briefing that delegates were being told how to stay safe during a storm, and officials were ready for storm surge, bridge closures and other problems that could arise during the convention. He also said he was in close communication with local, state and federal agencies, as well as convention officials.

"We are a hospitality state. We know how to take care of people and we want to ensure their safety," Scott said Saturday.

Isaac was blamed for at least three deaths after dousing flood-prone Haiti and was expected to scrape eastern Cuba on Saturday. It was forecast to hit the Keys late Sunday or early Monday, and it then could bring stormy conditions to Florida's west coast before moving to the Panhandle.

Isaac was expected to pass over the Keys as a hurricane late Sunday or early Monday. There, preparations had begun in earnest. Richie Moretti, founder of the Sea Turtle Hospital in Marathon, Fla., noted that Hurricane Wilma was initially expected to come ashore as a Category 1 hurricane, the weakest classification.

"It took out the motel, the hospital, the docks, and all the boats. So, I don't take anything for granted. If there's a storm coming, I don't care what number they give it. We're going to batten down and be ready," he said.

A child walks through a flooded street after Tropical Storm Isaac hit in Barahona, Dominican Republic on Saturday. (Ricardo Arduengo/Associated Press)

Yet the storm was days away from the Panhandle. It was sunny and breezy on the beach Saturday in Pensacola, with people out strolling and playing in the sand. Condo associations told people to move furniture inside, but full-scale preparations hadn't yet begun. Waves weren't yet big enough for surfers.

When the storm hits, strong winds will be "enough to knock you over" and produce severe thunderstorms, said National Hurricane Center spokesman Dennis Feltgen.

Storm surge and tornadoes also are possible when Isaac hits, and winds could topple power lines and lead to lengthy power outages, Feltgen said. The Panhandle already has had a wet summer, so potential flooding was especially possible there.

Schools, airports, parks and beaches across South Florida closed ahead of the storm. In the Florida Keys, officials said they would open storm shelters and urged vacationers to leave. State officials warned Isaac was a massive storm – even though the eye may not pass over Tampa, tropical storm-force winds extended 370 km from the center.

Officials were handing out sandbags to residents in the Tampa area, which often floods when heavy rainstorms hit. Sandbags also were being handed out in Homestead, 20 years after Hurricane Andrew devastated the community there. Otherwise, however, convention preparations were moving ahead as usual.

Police said even heavy rain could reduce the protesters' ranks, and could also bring relief from another worry: extreme heat.