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GOP convention nightmare: Hurricane in Tampa | News

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GOP convention nightmare: Hurricane in Tampa
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TAMPA, Fla.- Images of palm trees and the waterfront convention center might be what helped attract the Republican National Convention to Tampa.

The event is scheduled for the final week of August, a time that happens to also be very near the height of hurricane season.

The idea, along with an estimated 50,000 visitors -- most without transportation -- has emergency planners contemplating the worst.

"We're looking at what could happen here in Hillsborough County and the actions that we would need to take," said Preston Cook, Hillsborough County's new Emergency Management director.

This week, he and other state Emergency Management officials will run through the nightmare scenario of a major hurricane hitting Tampa during the middle of the convention. The storm, nicknamed "Hurricane Gispert" for Hillsborough's recently retired EOC director, will follow the path of the last major storm to hit Tampa Bay, the Hurricane of 1921.

"The impacts would be devastating," said Brian LaMarre of the National Weather Service in Ruskin. He is among the team of meteorologists helping to coordinate with the U.S. Secret Service for just such a scenario. The week of the convention, a team from the Ruskin office will staff the emergency operations center in Tampa around the clock.

"Downtown Tampa would be under water, transportation would be severed," says LaMarre. "If we see a category 1 impact downtown Tampa at high tide, the bridges will no longer be passable."

Even a storm offshore could cause havoc. Remember Hurricane Elena in 1985? It remained offshore of Tampa Bay, but prompted the largest evacuation in U.S. history at the time.

In August 2004, Hurricane Charley made a bee-line for the Bay area before turning towards Orlando. And two of the biggest of them all, Hurricanes Andrew and Katrina, both churned in the Gulf the very same week as the convention.

"It can be a low chance, but again it's not a zero chance," says LaMarre. "We have to remember a hurricane during the hurricane season can impact at virtually any time."

If the worst does happen, Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn says plans are already in place and, convention or not, the region will be ready.

"Politics will not trump human lives," said Mayor Buckhorn. "If there is a chance a hurricane is coming during the course of this convention, we will make our decision based on what is best for the citizens that live here and the guests that are here."

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