Bush prepares Rita response

By Adam Entous

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – Still under a cloud over the slow
response to Hurricane Katrina, President George W. Bush and top
aides rushed on Wednesday to assure the public they would be
able to avoid a repeat of the problems when Hurricane Rita

Bush issued pre-emptive emergency declarations for Texas
and Louisiana, while Homeland Security Secretary Michael
Chertoff and acting FEMA Director David Paulison fanned out to
tout improved federal preparations and coordination with state
and local officials.

Bush said he had spoken to the governors of Texas and
Louisiana about preparations for Rita, which grew into a
monster Category 5 storm and took aim at Texas, Bush’s home

Chertoff said there was a push to evacuate people in
affected areas as early as possible. Paulison said federal and
state officials were in almost hourly contact and that one of
the important things the Federal Emergency Management Agency
was doing this time was working with the Pentagon ahead of time
to preposition supplies.

“We’re going to make sure this time, to make sure we have
all those resources available,” Paulison said.

White House officials were already laying the groundwork
for Bush to visit or get close to the disaster zone soon after
Rita passes, leaving his schedule open for Saturday and Sunday.

Bush came under fire for waiting several days before
visiting New Orleans after Katrina devastated that city. He has
since returned five times to the disaster zone.

Administration officials are counting on a more aggressive,
hands-on approach to Hurricane Rita to help counter criticism
of their slow and confused response to Katrina. Since that
storm hit on August 29, Bush has seen his overall approval
ratings drop to new lows.

The effort could pay off politically for Bush, said Bruce
Buchanan, a political scientist at the University of Texas. “It
does supplant the memories (of Katrina), assuming he does
well,” Buchanan said.

“Federal, state and local governments are coordinating
their efforts to get ready,” Bush said. “We hope and pray that
Hurricane Rita will not be a devastating storm, but we’ve got
to be ready for the worst.”

His emergency declarations for Texas and Louisiana
authorized the Homeland Security Department and FEMA to
coordinate all disaster relief efforts.

For a second day running, Paulison held a media briefing to
read out a list of actions the agency was taking to prepare for

The White House said truckloads of water, ice and food were
being prepositioned in Texas. Officials said the Coast Guard
had rescue helicopters at the ready in Houston and Corpus

“Coordination at all levels needs to be seamless, or as
seamless as possible, and that’s what we’re working to do,”
White House spokesman Scott McClellan told reporters.

One of the horrors in the aftermath of Katrina was the
discovery of nursing home residents who had been left behind
and drowned.

Ahead of Rita, Chertoff said, authorities were “making
provisions for people in nursing homes or hospitals to get them
out so they are out of harm’s way and don’t need to be

(Additional reporting by Steve Holland and Deborah Charles)