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Storms stifle plans for convention attendees

By Billy O'Keefe

ARELIS HERNANDEZ / The Working Press
A string of tropical storms and hurricanes is headed toward the Atlantic Seaboard as SPJ convention attendees prepare to head home this weekend.
On the heels of Gustav, Hanna is hankering for attention as it makes landfall this weekend in the Carolinas, according to the National Weather Service.
Forecasters predict the fickle storm will move through the Washington D.C. area Saturday afternoon and evening, packing winds of 30 to 40 miles per hour and dropping 3 to 6 inches of rain. Tornadoes are also possible.
“We are in for a wet, windy day,” said Calvin Meadows of the National Weather Service in Sterling, Md. “It should be just a bad memory by mid-morning Sunday.”
Earlier this week, Gustav toppled power lines and plans for some Louisiana journalists who missed this year’s convention after New Orleans and other Gulf Coast cities were evacuated.
The hurricane ruined convention hopes for Michael Giusti, a Loyola University chapter adviser. His Jefferson Parish neighborhood was ordered to evacuate last Friday. The New Orleans professor was disappointed but made “a hurrication” out of the ordeal by visiting his mother in Houston.
“We are kind of cowards when it comes to evacuations,” said Giusti, who planned to bring a Loyola student to the convention. “I had to cancel my flight [Thursday] and just throw in the towel.”
The storm damaged buildings and cut off power for SPJ student members at Nicholls State University in Thibodaux, La., who were also evacuated. Classes are expected to resume Monday.
In Atlanta, at least one Friday morning session, “The Future Demands Big Changes in Thinking,” was canceled because of weather. Tom O’Briant, the news director at the Aiken Standard in South Carolina, left the convention early as Tropical Storm Hanna moved toward his area.
But to his “perverse dismay,” the storm whisked farther to the East, barely missing Aiken County.
“The weather messed with us and then it went away as these things sometimes do,” said O’Briant, who was scheduled to speak at the canceled workshop. ”Even though we didn’t have the tropical storm come here, everyone had to reschedule everything, including high school football.”
Experts say record low-pressure readings and above-average water temperatures are likely to keep hurricane season churning with power.
Although the latest Atlantic tempest didn’t affect Julie Fay’s convention experience, the National Law Journal reporter was worried for her cats in South Florida in anticipation of hurricanes Ike and Josephine.
Ike is expected to pummel the Bahamas on Sunday.
If it continues its track toward Florida, Ike could strengthen again, said Michael Formosa of the National Hurricane Center.
Missing the SPJ convention this year was disappointing, but Giusti said the worst part will be returning to a rancid refrigerator after days without power in New Orleans.