Storm Watches Posted for Florida as Isaac Nears Haiti

Tropical Storm Isaac was set to make landfall in Haiti overnight, slamming into the poorest country in the Western Hemisphere before heading toward Cuba and the Florida Keys. Some energy output in the Gulf of Mexico was shut.

The core of the storm, which may threaten the Republican National Convention in Tampa next week, is projected to cross Haiti on a track toward Cuba and the eastern Gulf, where it’s forecast to become a hurricane, the U.S. National Hurricane Center said.

“It’s important not to focus on the exact track due to uncertainties in the forecast and the fact that Isaac has a large area of tropical storm-force winds associated with it,” the center said in advisory yesterday. Those winds extend 230 miles (370 kilometers) from the core.

As much as 20 inches (51 centimeters) of rain and life-threatening floods and mudslides are possible on the island of Hispaniola, which includes Haiti and the Dominican Republic, the center said. A half-million Haitians are still living in temporary housing since a devastating 2010 earthquake.

The Gulf region is 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.

More than 50,000 people are expected to visit the Tampa Bay area on Florida’s west coast next week as Republicans hold their four-day meeting, said James Davis, a convention spokesman.

Isaac’s Position

Isaac was 65 miles south-southwest of Port-au-Prince, Haiti, as of 11 p.m. East Coast time last night, the Miami-based hurricane center said in an advisory. The system was moving northwest at 14 miles per hour and had top sustained winds of 70 mph.

“Isaac is getting better organized as it moves northwestward,” the 11 p.m. advisory said. “The center of Isaac should make landfall in Haiti.”

The center’s current tracking map shows Isaac nearing the Florida Keys tomorrow and becoming a hurricane on Aug. 27, the opening day of the convention that is expected to nominate Mitt Romney as the Republican presidential candidate. The storm may go ashore the next day on the Florida Panhandle, the center said.

BP Plc began evacuating its Thunder Horse oil platform in the Gulf and suspended crude and natural gas production there in anticipation of 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 an e-mailed statement.

Blind Faith

The Williams Companies Inc. 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 tomorrow or Aug. 27, a notice posted on Williams’ 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 it evacuated 18 non-essential workers from the Discoverer Enterprise rig. The company has 14 rigs in the area where the storm is projected to go, according to Guy Cantwell, a Transocean spokesman.

“Based on the projected track of Isaac, most energy platforms and rigs will be on the less-destructive side of Isaac,” Jim Rouiller, senior energy meteorologist at Planalytics Inc. in Berwyn, Pennsylvania, wrote in an e-mail.

Hurricane Watch

A hurricane watch, meaning hurricane conditions are possible within 24 to 36 hours, was posted for the Florida Keys and the southern coast of the peninsula from Ocean Reef on the Atlantic side to Bonita Beach on the Gulf. Watches and warnings have also been posted for parts of Cuba, the Bahamas and Jamaica.

Tampa, on Florida’s Gulf coast, is the state’s second-biggest metropolitan area, after Miami, with nearly 2.8 million people, Census data show. The Tampa Bay Times Forum, site of the gathering, is in a mandatory evacuation zone once storms reach 96 mph, a Category 2 on the five-step Saffir-Simpson scale, according to the Hillsborough County Hurricane Guide.

Florida Governor Rick Scott said last night that Isaac wouldn’t cause delays at the Republican National Convention in Tampa. Few delegates have canceled, he said. Scott is scheduled to deliver a speech to the convention on Aug. 27.

Storm Debby

Parts of Franklin and Wakulla counties in the Florida panhandle are still flooded from Tropical Storm Debby in June, and the state would be “lucky” if the storm dissipated over Cuba, he said.

“The longer it could spend over Cuba, the better for everybody,” Scott said.

Mississippi Governor Phil Bryant put on hold his plans to attend the Republican convention as Isaac’s track became better-defined, Mick Bullock, the governor’s spokesman, said yesterday by e-mail.

“We are monitoring the situation hourly and will decide at the proper time if the governor can attend,” Bullock said.

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