Florida Braces as Isaac Forecast to Hit Keys as Hurricane

Florida Braces as Isaac Set to Strengthen Into Hurricane
Area residents fill sand bags ahead of Tropical Storm Isaac in St. Pete Beach on Sunday. Photographer: Edward Linsmier/Getty Images

Tropical Storm Isaac is forecast to strengthen into a hurricane today as it bears down on the Florida Keys, disrupting energy output in the Gulf of Mexico and forcing a delay in the Republican National Convention in Tampa.

The core of the storm, the season’s ninth named system, is projected to track across the Straits of Florida and then toward the southeastern Gulf tomorrow, according to the Miami-based U.S. National Hurricane Center. Florida Governor Rick Scott declared a statewide emergency, with hurricane warnings in place for the Keys, Florida Bay and the coastline between Bonita Beach on the Gulf coast to Golden Beach in the east.

About 8.6 percent of U.S. oil production and 1.6 percent of natural-gas output from the Gulf is shut because of Isaac, a Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement report showed yesterday. The Republican convention, at which Mitt Romney is set to formally become the party’s presidential candidate, will convene tomorrow as scheduled, and then immediately recess until the next day. Isaac may make landfall on the Gulf coast midweek.

“The center of Isaac is expected to move just north of the north coast of Cuba this morning, and move near or over the Florida Keys today and tonight,” the hurricane center repeated in an advisory at about 8 a.m. New York time. It will “move into the eastern Gulf of Mexico on Monday.”

Hurricane Warning

Isaac was about 155 miles (249 kilometers) east of Havana, Cuba, or 135 miles east-southeast of Key West, Florida, according to the advisory. The storm was moving northwest at 20 miles per hour, with maximum sustained winds of 65 mph (100 kilometers per hour), it said. A hurricane warning means winds of at least 74 mph will arrive within 36 hours.

The government of the Bahamas downgraded the hurricane warning for Andros Island to a tropical storm warning and lifted the tropical storm warning for the central and southeastern Bahamas, the hurricane center said in its latest advisory.

Scott’s emergency declaration activates the National Guard. The governor encouraged people planning to attend the convention to carry on, saying there’s no need to cancel hotel reservations because of Isaac, according to a statement.

More than 50,000 people are expected to visit the Tampa Bay area as Republicans hold the 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, or Category 2 on the five-step Saffir-Simpson scale, according to the Hillsborough County Hurricane Guide.

Tampa will probably feel “squally winds” and get as much as five inches of rain, said Jim Rouiller, senior energy meteorologist at Planalytics Inc. in Berwyn, Pennsylvania. “For Tampa to get catastrophic flooding, the storm would have to move west to east into the bay, and that is not going to happen.”

BP’s Plans

The Gulf is home to 23 percent of U.S. oil production, 7 percent of natural gas output and 44 percent of the country’s refining capacity.

BP Plc began evacuating its Thunder Horse platform in the Gulf on Aug. 24 and suspended crude and natural-gas production there. The London-based company also plans to remove non-essential workers from its Na Kika, Horn Mountain and Marlin platforms, Arturo Silva, a spokesman, said in a statement.

The Williams Co. was securing the Blind Faith, Devils Tower and Canyon Station platforms in the eastern Gulf. Based on Isaac’s projected track, the company may shut the platforms and evacuate workers, a notice on Williams’s website showed. Exxon Mobile Corp., 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.

Isaac dropped heavy rain in Haiti, where about 500,000 people are still living in temporary housing since a 2010 earthquake. At least three people died in the country, the Associated Press said.

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