U.S. Getting 'Ready for the Worst' as Hurricane Rita Approaches

With Hurricane Rita gaining strength on its path towards the Texas Gulf Coast, the Bush administration is getting “ready for the worst.”

“We hope and pray that Hurricane Rita will not be a devastating storm, but we got to be ready for the worst,” said Bush in a speech to the Republican Jewish Coalition.

The National Hurricane Center reported this afternoon that Rita is now a level five hurricane with maximum sustained winds measured at 165 mph. The storm is expected to make landfall on the Texas Gulf coast on Saturday, but forecasters say it could instead hit Louisiana or northern Mexico.

Bush said that Federal, state, and local governments are coordinating their efforts to respond to Rita, urging citizens to comply with mandatory evacuation orders in New Orleans and Texas.

“I urge the citizens to listen carefully to the instructions provided by state and local authorities and follow them,” said Bush.

Lyda Ann Thomas, Mayor of Galveston, Texas, ordered her city’s residents to begin evacuating yesterday, making the move mandatory for nursing home residents. Over 1,500 of the city’s 60,000 residents have been bused out of Galveston so far, according to CNN.

The director of the Texas Office of Homeland Security said the state has planned to shelter 250,000 across the state but will be able to accommodate more than double that number.

Houston Mayor Bill White today also told residents to begin moving from lower-lying areas of the city, with evacuation plans going into effect at 6 p.m. CDT, Frank Michel, communications director for White, told CNN.

Remaining Louisiana residents, specifically those near the Texas state line, were also ordered to evacuate by today.

R. David Paulison, the newly appointed director of the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), urged those who have been asked to evacuate to be timely in their actions.

“We know that there is going to be a period of time before help gets to you,” Paulison said. “So you need to make sure you have your family’s plan in place, your evacuation plans in place. Make sure you have food, water, medicine – all the things you need to survive for a couple days on your own.”

Hundreds of truckloads of water, ice, and ready-made meals have already been dispatched to locations in Rita’s path, with medical assistance and search and rescue teams also on call.

A statement released by the Department of Defense said that over 300,000 National Guard troops nationwide are available to respond if the need arises.

Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff was confident about the government’s preparations for Rita.

“I think we’re going to be ready when it does hit land,” said Chertoff, who added that Homeland Security has been “reloading” their resources since Katrina.

The President was also optimistic about the country’s response, citing the United States as being as being “a strong and resilient nation.”

“One of the things that I hope you take comfort in knowing is that throughout our history, we’ve been challenged a lot, and every time we’ve been challenged, we have emerged a stronger and better nation,” said Bush. “There is no challenge to man or nature that our citizens cannot overcome.”