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Republicans delay convention as hurricane threatens landfall

The US Republican Party has postponed the main events of its presidential convention in Tampa as Tropical Storm Isaac lashes southern Florida. Isaac is expected to become a Category 2 hurricane early next week.

Tens of thousands of Republicans gathered in the coastal city of Tampa will kick off their presidential convention a day late, as Tropical Storm Isaac bears down on the US state of Florida.

The convention was originally scheduled to get into full swing on Monday, but now will only nominally open then. The four-day gathering's main events have been delayed until Tuesday.

Although Mitt Romney is already the Republicans' presumed nominee, state delegates are meeting in Tampa to give the former Massachusetts governor the official nod. He will then be set to face off against incumbent US President Barack Obama, a Democrat, in the November 6 election.

Romney praised the decision to delay the convention.

"The safety of those in Isaac's path is of the utmost importance," the former governor said. "I applaud those in Tampa making appropriate schedule changes."

Approaching hurricane strength

The Miami-based US National Hurricane Center said Tropical Storm Isaac was likely to reach hurricane strength by the time it hit the Florida Keys, 150 kilometers (90 miles) north of Cuba. In one of its latest advisories, the center reported that Isaac was 300 kilometers east-southeast of Key West with top winds of 100 kilometers per hour.

Although Isaac is on course to make landfall on Florida's east coast, its tropical-storm-force winds extend some 300 kilometers from its center, thereby possibly threatening Tampa on the state's western Gulf coast.

Satellite photo of Isaac near Cuba and Haiti

Isaac has pounded Caribbean island nations

The storm has already left six people dead in the island nation of Haiti, which is still recovering from a 2010 earthquake that killed 250,000 people and leveled the capital, Port au Prince. At least 350,000 Haitians are still living in makeshift shelters, leaving them particularly vulnerable to the storm.

Three people have been reported missing in Dominican Republic, which shares the island of Hispaniola with Haiti. Cuba has also been hit hard, particularly the island nation's east, where more than 1,000 people were evacuated from the city of Baracoa.

slk/tj (Reuters, AFP)