MIAMI —  Officials organized shelters and  urged vacationers to leave the Florida Keys as Tropical Storm Isaac approached  on Saturday, though preparations farther north focused on getting ready for the  Republican National Convention.

Gov. Rick Scott declared a state of emergency to make sure local and state  agencies would be ready. The governor said during a media briefing that  delegates were being told on 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.

A hurricane warning had been issued for the Keys, though it was still a sunny  day in Tampa. Forecast models show Isaac won’t hit Tampa head-on, but the storm  will still likely lash the city with rain and strong winds just as the  convention ramps up. Protests were to start in full force on Sunday afternoon,  and demonstrators have vowed that they will make their presence known rain or  shine.

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.

Still, 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  230 miles 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.

Groups including Code Pink, People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, the  AFL-CIO union and Planned Parenthood have already started arriving in Tampa,  regardless of the forecast.

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

Flooding and beach erosion is also a concern for southwest Florida. The  hurricane warning included the west coast of Florida from Bonita Beach  southward.

Source: FOX


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