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Tampa Braces for High Winds; Fla. Governor Preps Response

ABC News(TAMPA, Fla.) — With Tropical Storm Isaac whipping the Florida Keys Sunday with high winds and driving rain, Florida Gov. Rick Scott says that the state’s focus moving forward is ensuring the safety of the Sunshine State’s 19 million residents along with the crush of visitors traveling to Tampa for the Republican National Convention this week.

Scott, who declared a state of emergency for Florida on Saturday, said the latest forecasts have the storm “moving a bit west as it comes up the coast,” but he expected Isaac to eventually make landfall somewhere in the Florida panhandle. He said there was “a big concern” over the potential for flooding there, especially since Tropical Storm Debbie had already saturated the ground when that storm hit in late June.  He said his chief concern for the Tampa area is the looming impact of the wind.

Asked whether anyone is second-guessing scheduling the Republican National Convention in Florida during the middle of hurricane season, the governor predicted the GOP would still “have a great convention.”

“Everybody likes to come to Florida,” Scott said. “Our job and everybody up here has the same job: keep every resident and every visitor to our state safe, and we’re going to make sure that happens. We’re going to do everything we can to make sure they have a great time.

“The convention was a big opportunity for our state to show what a great state [and] place it is to live, work, and play,” he said. “What they’re going to find out this week is we know how to deal with hurricanes. We’re prepared. This is a state that knows how to deal with those things. On top of that, we’re the best hospitality state around. We have 87 million tourists here a year. We know how to have conventions, we know how to have large events, we’re going to do a great job.”

Scott said he spoke directly with Mitt Romney twice on Saturday to bring the presumptive Republican nominee “up to speed” and discuss the state’s emergency management efforts.

“[Romney's] biggest concern was what’s happening to the citizens of our state. He wanted to make sure that the 19 million citizens, everybody that is visiting our state is safe,” he said. “I went through the things — same sort of briefing we’re doing with the RNC — as far as you know the anticipated storm surge, the wind, the issues with regard to what the wind [and] what impact it would have on our bridges and what impact it would have on the use of buses.”

With regard to the convention, Scott said state and local officials are making sure delegates have information about how they should react to the storm and urged residents and visitors staying close to the beach to stay there and minimize travel.

“Don’t start venturing into the Tampa side because you don’t know what’s going to happen as far as your ability to get home,” he said.

With the storm’s trajectory now forecast to shift farther west, Scott said his primary concern for Tampa is the impact of the winds. He also pledged to dispatch his state’s resources wherever the storm strikes.

“Clearly we’re a state that has dealt with hurricanes. We know how to do this, and if it ends up going farther west — whether it’s Alabama, Mississippi, Louisiana — Florida will be ready to be helpful,” he said. “Once we see where the track’s going to be up north, if we need to provide resources to another state, then we’ll have the resources to do that.”

Tampa Police Chief Jane Castor echoed the governor’s emphasis on public safety, but suggested the strength of the storm likely will be tolerable, even for the thousands of demonstrators in Tampa this week during the convention.

“As far as the police officers are concerned, we’re going to be out on the street,” she said. “Right now the track is moving farther and farther west, so as it is right now there’ll be high winds, and there’ll be rains, but it’s not going to be something that’s going to prohibit anyone from doing what they want to do out on the street.”

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio

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