President Bush says government officials are preparing for the worst as Hurricane Rita approaches Texas with winds of 265 kilometers per hour.
President Bush says people in the path of Hurricane Rita should get out of the way: "This is a big storm, and it's really important for our citizens there on the Texas coast to follow the instructions of the local authorities. Officials at every level of government are preparing for the worst."
The president was briefed on the storm by Homeland Security Director Michael Chertoff. He also spoke with Texas Governor Rick Perry as millions of people evacuate cities along the state's Gulf Coast, where the storm is expected to make
landfall late Friday or early Saturday.
Following a Pentagon briefing on terrorism, President Bush said U.S. troops and supplies are pre-positioned along the Gulf Coast to help federal, state, and local officials respond swiftly and effectively to help those affected by Hurricane Rita.
The White House appears to be taking a more active role in preparations for this hurricane following criticism that the administration was slow to respond to Hurricane Katrina which hit New Orleans less than a month ago, flooding most of the city and killing more than one-thousand people along the Gulf Coast.
Hurricane Rita was declared an Incident of National Significance Thursday, giving Homeland Security officials broader powers to direct the deployment of resources. Hurricane Katrina was declared such an incident one day after it reached land.
Asked how preparations for Hurricane Rita differ from those for Hurricane Katrina, President Bush said people are taking evacuation orders more seriously and there is already a Coast Guard Admiral in Texas as the principal federal officer to direct assistance.
While Hurricane Rita's current path appears to spare New Orleans another direct hit, Louisiana Governor Kathleen Blanco has ordered a general evacuation from coastal areas in anticipation of what she expects to be serious consequences from the storm. The president travels to Texas Friday to meet with relief officials and then on to Colorado and the headquarters of the U.S. Northern Command, which is supervising assistance to hurricane affected areas.