Disaster Preparations Underway for Hurricane Rita

Federal and state officials in the U.S. states of Texas and Louisiana are not taking any chances as the second major storm in less than a month roars west through the Gulf of Mexico.



Hurricane Rita is churning up more than waves as the storm intensifies over the warm waters of the Gulf.


Now a Category 5 storm, Hurricane Rita is expected to slam into southeast Texas on Saturday with maximum sustained winds of 260 kilometers per hour. Forecasters say it could also bring strong winds and heavy rain to Louisiana, which is still recovering from Hurricane Katrina.


Recently appointed as Acting Director of the Federal Emergency Management Agency, David Paulison says the miscommunication between federal and local governments that was evident during the initial response to Katrina should not be a problem this time.


"We are doubling our efforts to communicate with the states, making sure that they know what we're going to do, and we know what they're going to do."


Stung by criticism over the government's slow response to Katrina, President George Bush says storm preparations have been stepped up and he urged citizens to comply with mandatory evacuation orders issued in New Orleans and Galveston, Texas.


"We hope and pray that Hurricane Rita will not be a devastating storm but we have got to be ready for the worst," said the president.


Federal officials say as many as one million people have been ordered to clear out from the Gulf Coast. Search and Rescue teams have been mobilized and 2,000 National Guard troops have been placed on active alert. 


Homeland Security Chief Michael Chertoff says the plan this time is to stay one step ahead of the storm. "We've actually taken a second Coast Guard Admiral, I've appointed him as my personal representative on the ground and Admiral Allen will focus on Louisiana, Mississippi, and Alabama and the new admiral will focus on Texas."


And Texans who opened their doors to thousands of Katrina's victims are now bracing for their own potential disaster.  Residents along the threatened coastlines are stocking up, boarding up businesses and homes; many taking the government's advice to move inland.


Butch Davis, who heads a local emergency management team in southeast Texas, says evacuation centers are ready and fully stocked.


"Katrina brought a lot of eye-opening information to us how to change procedure, how to change policy, so we would be ready in the event something happened.  We just hoped it wouldn't be quite so soon."


And with at least 18 Texas oil refineries in Rita's path, some analysts say oil production may take another hit. The Gulf Coast accounts for about a third of total U.S. oil production. 


Rita is the 17th named storm of the Atlantic hurricane season, making this the fourth-busiest season since record-keeping started in 1851.


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