After the devastation and chaos that followed Hurricane Katrina three weeks ago, the federal government is eager to prove it's ready for Rita, a Category 5 storm bearing down on the Gulf Coast.
President Bush has declared a state of emergency in Texas and said Wednesday that all levels of government are coordinating their efforts to prepare "for the worst."
"We hope and pray that Hurricane Rita will not be a devastating storm, but we've got to be ready for the worst," Bush said in a speech to the Republican Jewish Coalition in Washington, D.C.
The administration faced harsh criticism over its handling of Katrina. One professional casualty of the storm was Michael Brown, who resigned last week as head of the Federal Emergency Management Agency. Bush appointed R. David Paulison, a former fire chief in Miami, as acting head of FEMA.
Mandatory evacuation orders are in effect for Galveston, Texas, and nearby towns, Port Lavaca, Texas, parts of Houston, and New Orleans. Bush urged citizens in the Rita's path to follow instructions from state and local authorities.
Hospital and nursing home patients were evacuated from Galveston to inland shelters. FEMA is coordinating with the U.S. Department of Transportation to provide buses for other evacuees.
Some officials, including Galveston Mayor Lyda Ann Thomas, allowed residents to take pets in cages on evacuation buses, mindful that some people did not flee Katrina because they did not want to abandon their pets.
FEMA is pre-positioning food, water, ice, tarps and generators in Texas, including in Houston and San Antonio. Forty-five truckloads of water and ice and 25 truckloads of meals are ready at federal facilities in Texas.
FEMA will have 14 search-and-rescue teams (about 800 people) in Texas.
Lt. Gen. Robert Clark, with the Houston-based Fifth Army, will assume control of a joint military task force for Rita, if required. He would command all active duty forces responding to Rita.
About 319,000 National Guard troops nationwide are available to respond to Rita if needed.
FEMA requested other significant aid from the Department of Defense, including: communication teams to provide radio networks for first responders; field hospital support for 2,500 beds; six helicopters to support search-and-rescue teams; and field kitchens to provide 500,000 daily meals.