- The Washington Times - Friday, September 23, 2005

President Bush yesterday oversaw federal preparations for aiding emergency efforts in Texas and Louisiana after Hurricane Rita, and then flew to Northern Command in Colorado to coordinate the military’s role in relief operations.

Before departing Washington, the president traveled to the headquarters of the Federal Emergency Management Agency, where he took part in a video conference about hurricane operations. He was joined by Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff and acting FEMA Director R. David Paulison.

Calling Hurricane Rita “another big storm,” Mr. Bush said he is going to ensure that the federal government and the military are ready to “assist the state and local people to save lives and to help these people get back on their feet.”

Late yesterday, the president canceled a planned trip to San Antonio, where he was going to view hundreds of trucks with food and water and visit with first responders preparing to aid hurricane victims.

As the powerful hurricane changed course toward the east, FEMA officials decided to reposition the trucks and search-and-rescue teams closer to the projected targets of the storm.

“We didn’t want to slow up that decision in any way. The president made the decision to go straight to Colorado,” Bush spokesman Scott McClellan said.

A few hours before the White House made the decision to scrub the trip, Mr. Bush bristled at NBC News reporter David Gregory’s assertion that the presidential entourage would hamper preparations and his shouted question, “What good can you actually do?”

“We will make sure that my entourage does not get in the way of people doing their job, which will be search and rescue immediately,” the president said at FEMA. “And rest assured, I understand that we must not and will not interfere with the important work that will be going forward.”

At the federal emergency agency’s headquarters, Mr. Bush praised workers who have spent the past month managing the response to one powerful hurricane and preparing for another expected to make landfall early today.

“I appreciate the folks here who are working so hard to help the folks on the ground prepare for the storm,” he said.

Mr. Bush went last night to Colorado Springs and planned a stop today at the U.S. Northern Command, a facility created after the September 11 terrorist attacks as the military’s homeland security command center.

The president was expected to make additional hurricane-related stops throughout the weekend. But as the storm moved toward an expected landfall along the Texas-Louisiana line, the White House kept his schedule “very flexible” and offered no word about where he was going or when he would return to Washington.

Mr. Bush’s Cabinet met yesterday at the White House to begin an internal assessment of how the government’s response to Hurricane Katrina went wrong. Mr. Bush also met with Bruce Gordon, president of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People.

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