MIAMI —Â Officials organized shelters andÂ urged vacationers to leave the Florida Keys as Tropical Storm Isaac approachedÂ on Saturday, though preparations farther north focused on getting ready for theÂ Republican National Convention.
Gov. Rick Scott declared a state of emergency to make sure local and stateÂ agencies would be ready. The governor said during a media briefing thatÂ delegates were being told on how to stay safe during a storm, and officials wereÂ ready for storm surge, bridge closures and other problems that could ariseÂ during the convention. He also said he was in close communication with local,Â state and federal agencies, as well as convention officials.
“We are a hospitality state. We know how to take care of people and we wantÂ to ensure their safety,” Scott said Saturday.
A hurricane warning had been issued for the Keys, though it was still a sunnyÂ day in Tampa. Forecast models show Isaac won’t hit Tampa head-on, but the stormÂ will still likely lash the city with rain and strong winds just as theÂ convention ramps up. Protests were to start in full force on Sunday afternoon,Â and demonstrators have vowed that they will make their presence known rain orÂ shine.
Isaac was blamed for at least three deaths after dousing flood-prone HaitiÂ and was expected to scrape eastern Cuba on Saturday. It was forecast to hit theÂ Keys late Sunday or early Monday, and it then could bring stormy conditions toÂ Florida’s west coast before moving to the Panhandle.
Still, the storm was days away from the Panhandle. It was sunny and breezy onÂ the beach Saturday in Pensacola, with people out strolling and playing in theÂ sand. Condo associations told people to move furniture inside, but full-scaleÂ 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” andÂ produce severe thunderstorms, said National Hurricane Center spokesman DennisÂ Feltgen.
Storm surge and tornadoes also are possible when Isaac hits, and winds couldÂ topple power lines and lead to lengthy power outages, Feltgen said. TheÂ Panhandle already has had a wet summer, so potential flooding was especiallyÂ possible there.
Schools, airports, parks and beaches across South Florida closed ahead of theÂ storm. In the Florida Keys, officials said they would open storm shelters andÂ urged vacationers to leave. State officials warned Isaac was a massive storm –Â even though the eye may not pass over Tampa, tropical storm-force winds extendedÂ 230 miles from the center.
Officials were handing out sandbags to residents in the Tampa area, whichÂ often floods when heavy rainstorms hit. Sandbags also were being handed out inÂ Homestead, 20 years after Hurricane Andrew devastated the community there.Â Otherwise, however, convention preparations were moving ahead as usual.
Groups including Code Pink, People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, theÂ AFL-CIO union and Planned Parenthood have already started arriving in Tampa,Â regardless of the forecast.
Police said even heavy rain could reduce the protesters’ ranks, and couldÂ also bring relief from another worry: extreme heat.
Flooding and beach erosion is also a concern for southwest Florida. TheÂ hurricane warning included the west coast of Florida from Bonita BeachÂ southward.