Florida Governor Rick Scott said his fellow Republicans will decide whether to call off the party’s national convention in Tampa if Tropical Storm Isaac hits the area.
Convention organizers “make their own decisions,” Scott said at a news conference today in Tallahassee, the state capital. He added: “We must take every precaution.”
More than 50,000 people are expected to visit the Tampa Bay area as Republicans hold a four-day convention starting Aug. 27 to nominate Mitt Romney as their presidential candidate, said James Davis, a convention spokesman.
Forecasts showed the storm moving west of the state, Scott said in an afternoon news conference. There were no plans to cancel the convention, he said.
“There’s not an anticipation that there will be a cancellation,” Scott said. “Florida is ready. The state is more prepared than any state in the country for hurricanes.”
Scott declined to disclose contingency plans. Davis referred questions about back-up plans to the Secret Service, where spokesman Brian Leary declined to comment on details.
Hotels and convention centers will provide guests with information, Scott said. The Florida Republican Party told its delegates they will be notified with any “important updates,” said Kristen McDonald, a party spokeswoman.
“It’s going to be a nightmare if it hits Tampa,” said Russ Walker, an Oregon delegate, who will be staying at a beach- front hotel. “We are out on an island” and delegates would “have to be evacuated” from their hotels, he said.
The Ohio Republican Party set up a text-messaging network to provide weather news and other information to its delegates, said Matthew Henderson, a spokesman for the state party.
“We’re never going to be more than a text message away from our delegation,” Henderson said.
Scott said it’s too soon to say where the storm may make landfall. He activated the state emergency operations center and ordered Florida’s emergency response team to issue briefings twice daily to the public and the media.
The National Guard is prepared to provide additional security if needed, Scott said. The Federal Emergency Management Agency has moved prepared meals, generators and other supplies into the state, said Bryan Koon, director of the state Division of Emergency Management, at the afternoon news conference.
Scott said he is coordinating with government officials and convention leaders twice a day to share storm information.
Scott and local emergency officials told convention organizers “that they have the resources in place to respond to this storm should it make landfall, as our primary concern is with those in the potential path of the storm,” said William Harris, the convention’s chief executive officer, in a statement.
Isaac moved into the Caribbean Sea and may become a hurricane tomorrow as it travels west on a path watched by commodity markets and officials preparing for the convention. The storm is forecast to strengthen and cross Haiti and Cuba before arriving at the southwestern Florida coast Aug. 27, the National Hurricane Center said.
Computer forecast models, which had disagreed about Isaac’s track, are starting to “show a little more convergence” and are predicting a path into the eastern Gulf of Mexico, said Travis Hartman, a forecaster with MDA EarthSat Weather.
The Tampa Bay Times Forum, site of the gathering, is in an evacuation zone once the storm reaches 96 miles per hour, a Category 2 on the five-step Saffir-Simpson scale, according to the Hillsborough County Hurricane Guide.
Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn, a Democrat, said he’s prepared to order an evacuation of the city if a major storm approaches.
“If we took a direct hit with all that water being pushed up Hillsborough Bay, the bulk of downtown would be underwater,” Buckhorn said in an interview.
“There are contingency plans in place” in case of a hurricane and Republican National Committee officials are “monitoring the situation,” said Kirsten Kukowski, a spokesman for the national party committee, in an e-mail. Kukowski said Buckhorn “has no jurisdiction over our convention.”
Republicans passed over Florida as the site for their past three conventions pointing to hurricane concerns, said Tampa developer Al Austin, a Republican fundraiser who led efforts to bring the convention to his home state.
The Tampa metropolitan area, the second largest in Florida, includes about 2.8 million people.
Scott is scheduled to arrive at the convention on Aug. 26 and address delegates on Aug. 27. He said he would skip the speech if necessary. In 2008, as a hurricane made landfall in Louisiana, Republicans made changes to their convention 1,300 miles away in Minnesota.
“Hopefully it’s not going to happen,” Scott said of a potential hurricane hitting the state. “Hopefully it will go further west or dissipate.”
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