Isaac May Become Hurricane, Reach Florida Keys Tomorrow

Tropical Storm Isaac left the coast of Haiti on a path toward Cuba and the Florida Keys, where it is forecast to arrive tomorrow at hurricane strength, the U.S. National Hurricane Center said. Some energy output in the Gulf of Mexico is shut.

The Keys and parts of southern Florida’s west coast were put under a hurricane warning today, while areas of the state’s southeastern coast are on a hurricane watch, the center in Miami said in an advisory on its website at 8 a.m. local time.

Isaac, which may threaten the Republican National Convention in Tampa next week, had maximum sustained winds of 60 miles per hour (95 kilometers per hour) and was moving northwest at 14 mph. The system was centered about 90 miles east-southeast of Guantanamo, Cuba.

A hurricane watch, meaning hurricane conditions are possible within 24 hours to 36 hours, was posted for all of the Florida Keys, Florida Bay, the state’s west coast from Bonita Beach southward and the east coast from Golden Beach southward. The government of the Bahamas has also issued a hurricane watch for Andros Island.

Energy companies including BP Plc began suspending crude and gas operations in the Gulf region, home to 23 percent of U.S. oil production, 7 percent of natural-gas output and 44 percent of refining capacity, according to the U.S. Energy Department.

Heavy Rain

As much as 20 inches (51 centimeters) of rain and life-threatening mudslides are possible on the island of Hispaniola, which includes Haiti and the Dominican Republic, the center said. As much as 12 inches of rain could fall across central and eastern parts of Cuba, the Florida Keys and the southern peninsula of Florida.

The hurricane threatens to disrupt the opening day of the Republican Party convention, which begins on Aug. 27. Mitt Romney is expected to be nominated as the party’s presidential candidate during the four-day event.

More than 50,000 people are expected to visit the Tampa Bay area next week as Republicans hold their meeting, said James Davis, a convention spokesman. The Tampa Bay Times Forum, site of the gathering, is in a mandatory-evacuation zone once storms reach 96 mph, Category 2 on the five-step Saffir-Simpson scale, according to the Hillsborough County Hurricane Guide.

Few Cancellations

Florida Governor Rick Scott said yesterday at a news briefing in the state capital, Tallahassee, that Isaac wouldn’t cause delays at the convention. Few delegates had canceled, he said. Scott is scheduled to deliver a speech to the convention on Aug. 27.

Vice President Joe Biden canceled a plan to visit Tampa during the convention on Aug. 27 because of concern that the trip may disrupt disaster planning, according to a statement from President Barack Obama’s re-election campaign.

A half-million Haitians are still living in temporary housing since a devastating 2010 earthquake. The country had a population of 10.1 million last year and gross domestic product of $7.3 billion, according to data on the website of the World Bank, which describes it as a so-called low-income nation.

BP began evacuating its Thunder Horse platform in the Gulf and suspended crude and natural-gas production there before the storm. The London-based company also plans to remove non-essential workers from its Na Kika, Horn Mountain and Marlin platforms, Arturo Silva, a BP spokesman, said in a statement.

Gulf Preparations

The Williams Co. was securing the Blind Faith, Devils Tower and Canyon Station platforms in the eastern Gulf of Mexico. Based on Isaac’s projected track, the company expected to shut the platforms and evacuate workers Aug. 26 or Aug. 27, a notice posted on Williams’s website showed.

Chevron Corp., Murphy Oil Corp., Royal Dutch Shell Plc, Eni SpA, Apache Corp., Diamond Offshore Drilling Inc. and Ensco Plc said they were evacuating nonessential workers. Shell said on its website that drilling operations have been suspended on some central and eastern Gulf assets, though production hasn’t been affected. Murphy also halted drilling operations, Barry Jeffery, a company spokesman, said by e-mail.

Transocean said that it evacuated 18 non-essential workers from the Discoverer Enterprise rig. The company has 14 rigs in the projected storm path, according to Guy Cantwell, a Transocean spokesman.

Isaac is the ninth named storm of the Atlantic hurricane season this year. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, which includes the National Hurricane Center, said there may be as many as 17 named storms this season, including hurricanes, according to a statement on Aug. 9.

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