All the preparations were complete. Hotel rooms were reserved and speaking schedules were plotted. On Sept. 21, about 14,000 experts from around the world were to gather for the Interscience Conference on Antimicrobial Agents and Chemotherapy at the New Orleans convention center.

Then Hurricane Katrina devastated the city, and the convention center became a hellish refuge for storm survivors.

"We had originally hoped that we could reschedule this meeting in New Orleans in December," said Barbara Hyde, communications director of the District-based American Society for Microbiology, which sponsors the annual meeting. "We've always had a very special relationship with New Orleans, and when we hold meetings there, they're very popular. It soon become obvious this was an impossibility."

The conference has been rescheduled for Dec. 16 to 19 at the Washington Convention Center.

William A. Hanbury, president and chief executive of the Washington, D.C. Convention and Tourism Corp., said his staff and convention bureaus in other cities are working with the New Orleans convention bureau. With communications difficult and the flooded city shut down, the bureau's Chicago-based representative has been the prime contact.

"We have a very close relationship with the New Orleans tourism and convention bureau, and we've been working with their staff on relocating actually several events to Washington," Hanbury said.

Hanbury said the slot in mid-December, when convention business tails off before Christmas, was the only time available this year in the District for so big a convention. He said other dates are available in January or February and are being discussed with convention sponsors and meeting planners. Hanbury said hotel chains are working to move smaller conferences that had been booked for their hotels in the hurricane-affected area.

For the microbiology association, this isn't the first time a convention has been rescheduled because of tragic events. In 2001, Hyde said, the organization had scheduled a convention in Chicago for mid-September. After the Sept. 11 attacks, air travel was grounded and the group rescheduled the meeting to December.

The organization moved quickly this time to refund hotel deposits in New Orleans. It gave those who had signed up for the convention there a choice of receiving a refund of the registration fee or transferring it to the rescheduled conference in Washington.

"New Orleans has released us from our obligations," Hyde said.

-- Larry Liebert

A National Guardsman chats with a youngster at the New Orleans Convention Center.