x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 19 January 2018

Romney to weather hurricane as Lousiana declared state of emergency

Republican political convention forgotten as Tropical Storm Isaac becomes a hurricane and bears down on Louisiana.

Magazine Street, New Orleans retail employees prepare for Tropical Storm Isaac by putting plywood over their windows.
Magazine Street, New Orleans retail employees prepare for Tropical Storm Isaac by putting plywood over their windows.

WASHINGTON // Even the weather is conspiring against Mitt Romney.

As Tropical Storm Isaac turned into a hurricane yesterday, almost seven years to the day since Hurricane Katrina traced a deadly and destructive path, the Republican presidential candidate has found his efforts to shine a spotlight on the faltering US economy eclipsed.

Instead of securing America's attention as the race for the US presidency officially kicks off, the Republican convention in Tampa, Florida, has been shunted aside in US media coverage dominated by pictures of Louisiana residents huddling together in auditoriums.

It was Mr Romney's Democratic opponent, Barack Obama, the US president, who grabbed the media attention by declaring a state of emergency in Louisiana.

Mr Obama participated in a call to coordinate emergency response with Bobby Jindal, Robert Bentley and Phil Bryant - the governors of Louisiana, Alabama and Mississippi respectively and all Republicans - along with the Democrat mayor of New Orleans, Mitch Landrieu, and Craig Fugate, the Federal Emergency Management Agency administrator.

The scene was a stark reminder of the situation seven years ago when Hurricane Katrina struck the Mexican Gulf coast, killing more than 1,800 people.

Isaac is not as powerful. The US National Hurricane Centre in Miami yesterday predicted it would be a category-one hurricane, with winds in excess of 119kph. It will probably flood coastal areas in four states, including Florida, by the time it reaches the Louisiana coast.

Mr Fugate warned on Monday that the storm could wreak havoc and urged citizens to take shelter. "A lesson learned from Katrina is that state, local and federal officials have to be better prepared," he said.

The region is better prepared than it was in 2005. Since Katrina, the US Army Corps of Engineers has spent US$14 billion (Dh51.4bn) to strengthen 560km of levees and floodwalls around New Orleans.

Nevertheless, Isaac is having a direct effect in Florida, east across the Gulf of Mexico, and not just in its high winds and driving rains.

The Republican convention started on Monday as planned, but only long enough for Reince Priebus, the Republican Party chairman, to bring it to order for a few minutes before halting proceedings.

The party will now cram four days of activities into three. That is a day less of live footage of the two electronic tickers in the convention hall tracking the US debt, which the Republicans hope remind viewers of the state of the economy.

Republicans will be wary of appearing insensitive should a disaster unfold. Katrina hit under the watch of the Republican president, George W Bush, whose administration was criticised for being slow to respond. It disproportionately affected poor, black areas and Mr Bush was slammed by the rapper Kanye West as someone who "doesn't care for black people".

Katrina's legacy, it seems, still haunts Republicans.


* With additional reporting by Reuters