President Bush says federal officials are ready to help those affected by Hurricane Rita, which came ashore early Saturday with winds of about 190 kilometers per hour. The storm's intensity lessened over the course of the morning, but continued to dump large amounts of rain on some areas, raising fears of flooding.
President Bush says the first priority is sending search and rescue teams to pull people out of harm's way. Because of potential flooding, he says, it is still too dangerous for some of the more than two million people who have evacuated to return home.
"A lot of people have left the coastline, and headed into east Texas and parts of western Louisiana," the president said. "It is important for them to listen carefully to the local authorities about whether or not it is safe to return back to their homes. It is going to take awhile for authorities on the ground to fully understand the impact of the flooding. And, therefore, people who are safe now ought to remain in safe conditions."
The president received an hour-long briefing on the hurricane at an Air Force command center in the state of Colorado, where he was told the storm is expected to dump 60 centimeters or more of rain over the next five days.
The White House has played a higher-profile role in preparing for this storm than it did in advance of Hurricane Katrina, which hit the Gulf Coast less than a month ago, killing more than 1,000 people.
Public opinion polls show Americans blame leaders at all levels of government for the slow response to Hurricane Katrina. President Bush says he takes responsibility for federal shortfalls, and says the government is now well-organized and well-prepared to deal with Hurricane Rita.
"Our government is taking every step possible to protect life and bring comfort to those affected," he said.
In his weekly radio address, the president said he remains focused on helping Gulf Coast communities rebuild from Hurricane Katrina. He wants Congress to approve tax incentives for businesses to return to damaged areas, and money to help people find new jobs.
"We will do everything we can to guide the recovery effort, and help them realize their vision, so that communities along the Gulf Coast are better and stronger than before the storm," Mr. Bush noted.
In the Democratic Party's radio address, Arkansas Senator Blanche Lincoln said the biggest legacy of Hurricanes Katrina and Rita may be a greater awareness of some of the inequalities in American culture, and a renewed spirit of doing something about it.
"And, long after our Gulf region is rebuilt, we must remember this renewed spirit of selfless service for the less fortunate and work toward making sure that every American has the opportunity to live hopeful lives," said Senator Lincoln.
President Bush spends the night in Texas after visiting the state's emergency operations center.