Isaac forces RNC postponement

HERALD WIRE REPORTSAugust 26, 2012 

HAVANA -- Tropical Storm Isaac pushed over Cuba on Saturday after sweeping across Haiti's southern peninsula, where it caused flooding and at least four deaths, adding to the misery of a poor nation still trying to recover from the terrible 2010 earthquake.

Forecasters said Isaac poses a threat to Florida on Monday and Tuesday. It could eventually hit the Florida Panhandle as a Category 2 hurricane with winds of nearly 100 mph.

At 11 p.m. Saturday, the storm was centered about 80 miles east-northeast of Camaguey, Cuba, with maximum sustained winds of 60 mph, the Hurricane Center reported. It was moving northwest along the Cuban coastline at 20 mph.

Forecasters predicted the storm would likely march up through the Gulf of Mexico and approach the Florida Keys today, then continue north off the state's west coast as a hurricane Monday.

After consulting with Florida Gov. Rick Scott, weather forecasters and local officials, the heads of the Republican National Committee and the Republican National Convention on Saturday announced it was postponing most of its scheduled events Monday to avoid endangering delegates.

Scott declared a state of emergency Saturday, officials urged vacationers to leave the Florida Keys and the U.S. National Hurricane Center said a hurricane warning was in effect there, as well as for the west coast of Florida from Bonita Beach south to Ocean Reef and for Florida Bay.

Tampa is within the tropical storm watch zone, meaning forecasters believe tropical storm conditions are possible there within the next 48 hours.

The convention will officially convene on Monday, but then immediately go into recess until Tuesday, RNC Chairman Reince Priebus said Saturday.

"Our first priority is ensuring the safety of delegates, alternates, guests, members of the media attending the Republican National Convention, and citizens of the Tampa Bay area. RNC Convention officials and the Romney campaign are working closely with state, local and federal officials, as well as the Secret Service, to monitor Tropical Storm Isaac and preserve Florida's emergency management resources," he said in a statement. "Officials have predicted participants may encounter severe transportation difficulties due to sustained wind and rain."

All scheduled speeches, including the roll call vote to officially nominate Mitt Romney as the Republican's nominee will now take plan on Tuesday, the second scheduled day of the convention, organizers said.

The delegate party continues as planned for Sunday night at Tropicana Field in St. Petersburg, the organizers said, and no delegations have cancelled travel plans.

Isaac's center made landfall just before midday near the far-eastern tip of Cuba, downing trees and power lines. In the picturesque city of Baracoa, the storm surge flooded the seaside Malecon and a block inland, destroying two homes.

In Haiti, at least four people were reported dead including a 10-year-old girl who had a wall fall on her, according to the country's Civil Protection Office. There were no immediate details on how the others died.

The government also reported two injuries; "considerable damage" to agriculture and homes; nearly 8,000 people who were evacuated from their houses or quake shelters; and more than 4,000 who were taken to temporary shelters.

Many, however, stayed and suffered.

The Grise River overflowed north of Port-au-Prince, sending chocolate-brown water spilling through the sprawling shantytown of Cite Soleil, where many people grabbed what possessions they could and carried them on their heads, wading through waist-deep water.

"From last night, we're in misery," said Cite Soleil resident Jean-Gymar Joseph. "All our children are sleeping in the mud, in the rain."

Scores of tents in quake settlements collapsed. In a roadside lot in Cite Soleil, the dozens of tents and shelters provided by international groups after the earthquake were tossed to the ground like pieces of crumpled paper, and the occupants tried to save their belongings.

"They promised they were going to build us a sturdy home and it never came," Jean-Robert Sauviren, an unemployed 63-year-old father of six said as he stood barefoot in the water and held aloft his arms. "Maybe we don't deserve anything."

Ricknel Charles, a 42-year-old pastor, sheltered some 50 displaced people in his church.

"This is the only thing I can do for them: give them a place to sleep," Charles said.

About 300 homes in Cite Soleil lost their roofs or were flooded three feet (one meter) deep, according to Rachel Brumbaugh, operation manager for the U.S. nonprofit group World Vision.

Doctors Without Borders said it anticipated a spike in cholera cases due to flooding and it was preparing to receive more patients.

The international airport reopened by the afternoon but there was still extensive flooding throughout Port-au-Prince after 24 hours of steady rain.

After hitting land near the easternmost tip of Cuba on Saturday, Isaac's center spent just a few hours over the island before reemerging into the water, where it was expected to pick up strength.

Tropical storm-force winds extended nearly 205 miles (335 kilometers) from the center, giving Isaac a broad sweep as it passed.

In Baracoa, authorities cut off electricity as a preventive measure. Civil defense officials patrolled the streets and told onlookers to be careful as they gawked at the powerful surf kicked up by the storm. Waves crashing against the seawall sent spray high into the air and deposited rocks and other debris on land.

Dariel Villares and a cousin who lives next door lost their seaside homes.

"A high wave came and knocked down both walls: mine and my cousin's," Villares said. "Now we're removing everything of value."

There were no reports of fatalities, Red Cross worker Javier de la Cruz said.

Flooding was reported in low-lying coastal areas and 230 people were in emergency shelters, according to state TV.

In central Cuba, far to the west of Baracoa, the Sol Cayo Coco beach resort moved guests out of ground floor rooms. Intermittent rains and gusty winds buffeted Havana, 560 miles away.

Cuba has a highly organized civil defense system that goes door-to-door to enforce evacuations of at-risk areas, largely averting casualties from storms even when they cause major flooding and significant damage to crops.

Near the island's southeastern tip, the U.S. military suspended ferry service at the Guantanamo Bay naval base and bunked guards inside prison facilities, but operations were returning to normal by late afternoon.

"The bad weather did not materialize here as tropical storm Isaac turned away," Navy Capt. Robert Durand said.

Authorities in the Dominican Republic evacuated nearly 7,800 people from low-lying areas, and at least 10 rural settlements were cut off by flooding, according to Juan Manuel Mendez, director of rescue teams. Power was knocked out in parts of the capital, Santo Domingo.

There were no reports of injuries, but 49 homes across the country were destroyed.

Authorities discontinued a tropical storm warning, but rainfall was expected to reach up to 12 inches over the weekend. "We still have a big cloudy area over the island that will produce lots of rain" until Sunday afternoon, said Francisco Holguin of the local meteorological agency.

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