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Officials ponder hurricane threat when GOP gathers

Wednesday - 5/23/2012, 4:41pm  ET

By BRENT KALLESTAD
Associated Press

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (AP) - The Republican National Convention scheduled in Tampa for late August would be among the casualties if the area were threatened then by a hurricane, Florida Lt. Gov. Jennifer Carroll said Wednesday.

"Public safety _ that's going to be the number one priority," Carroll said. "We can have the convention again."

However, rescheduling a national political convention could be difficult heading into Labor Day weekend and with the Democratic National Convention slated for Charlotte, N.C., the following week.

Carroll said Florida Gov. Rick Scott, who returns Thursday from a trade mission to Spain, would make the call if the GOP convention were threatened by severe weather.

"This is his state, and public safety is primary," Carroll reiterated.

State emergency workers have spent recent days tracking a fictitious Category 3 Hurricane Gispert that would hit Tarpon Springs, just north of Tampa, two days after the convention is scheduled to begin.

"We'd be dealing a lot with storm surge issues down there," said Bryan Koon, the state's emergency management director. "We're also working on a high number of potential evacuations."

The four-day GOP convention is scheduled for Aug. 27 to 30, smack dab in the middle of Florida's hurricane season. Two of the most damaging hurricanes to hit the U.S. reached Florida in late August. Hurricane Katrina made landfall north of Miami on Aug. 25, 2005 while Hurricane Andrew came ashore with 145 mph winds just south of Miami on Aug. 24, 1992.

Florida heads into the official six-month storm season that begins June 1 having evaded a hurricane on its shores for an unprecedented six straight years. And the forecast for a seventh straight year without a hurricane is also encouraging.

"I want to remind Floridians that 20 years ago the same prediction was made," Carroll said. "In August 1992, Florida was forever altered. Hurricane Andrew changed the landscape of Florida."

Maj. General Emmett R. Titshaw Jr., adjutant general of the Florida National Guard, said Wednesday that he presently has 9,000 available troops for assistance if needed.

"The team that's in place is prepared to handle the various emergencies that we foresee," Carroll said.


(Copyright 2012 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)