Emergency workers are bracing for the possibility that Tropical Storm Isaac may bring wind and rain to Tampa at the same time the Republican National Convention is set to start, but officials do not believe organizers will need to cancel the event.
"Our No. 1 priority is the safety and security of all the people who will be in the impacted community and that could include the delegates and media that are here for the convention," said Bryan Koon, director of the Florida Division of Emergency Management.
More than 50,000 delegates, journalists and protestors are expected to arrive in Tampa for the convention that starts on Monday and will nominate Mitt Romney as President Barack Obama's challenger in the Nov. 6 election.
Any evacuation orders - which officials doubt will be needed with this storm - would come from emergency management officials, while the decision to call off the convention rests with its organizers, said Hillsborough County Emergency Services spokeswoman Holly Wade.
"The convention will make its own decision," Florida Governor Rick Scott reiterated in a news conference on Thursday.
Scott spoke with Romney on Thursday and assured him Florida is ready to host the convention.
"I gave him assurance that Florida has dealt with hurricanes in the past and we know how to deal with hurricanes," Scott told reporters.
Meanwhile, convention planners released statements saying they will continue to monitor the storm closely while staying in close contact with the National Weather Service, Governor Scott, the Romney campaign and local emergency officials.
After passing through the Caribbean, Isaac is forecast to strengthen again near Florida on Monday to a Category 1 hurricane.
In the unlikely scenario of needing to open emergency shelters, Wade said the county has more than enough space in its facilities to accommodate residents as well as the expected visitors in town.
While she did not think shelters would be necessary, she noted that parts of South Tampa - as well as Bayshore Boulevard close to the convention site at the Tampa Bay Times Forum - are prone to flooding, even with seasonal afternoon downpours.
Tropical Storm Debby soaked Tampa as it passed by the region two months ago, sending bay waters streaming over Bayshore Boulevard and overall causing millions of dollars in damage in the region. Also, the area's soil is still saturated from this week's storms that knocked down signs and a tent set up for the convention.
Florida has had practice not only through two recent tropical storms, but also a training exercise earlier this year. It entailed a mock Category 3 storm hitting Tampa Bay, said Koon, with the Florida Division of Emergency Management. (Additional reporting by Michael Peltier; Editing by David Adams and Lisa Shumaker)
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