With a potential major disaster looming, the US government has designated Hurricane Rita to the status of "incident of national significance," a move to initiate national response.
The Homeland Security Department made the declaration Wednesday night to officially start massive federal response to the potential destruction caused by Rita, now a Category 5 monster storm marching through the Gulf of Mexican toward Texan coastline.
According to the National Response Plan, whenever an emergency overwhelms state and local capabilities, the federal government will take over by declaring an "incident of national significance."
This is the second time the US government made such emergency declarations. Bush did so on Sept. 1, in the aftermath of the Hurricane Katrina disaster.
David Paulison, acting director of the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) vowed that this time the federal government will "make sure we're ready," and "we rather preposition more assets than we need than not have enough."
Even before the declaration, federal response is already underway.
FEMA has dispatched some 1,200 medical and rescue personnel into Texas, and asked the Pentagon to send 2,500 hospital beds to potential disaster zones in Louisiana and Texas.
200 buses will be sent to Texas to help evacuation efforts.
In its own response plan, the US military said it will send five communications teams and 20 helicopters to potential disaster zones.
According to latest reports of National Hurricane Center, at 1200 GMT Thursday, Hurricane Rita was centered some 788 km away southeast of Galveston, Texas, with sustained winds of 273 kph.
Rita is expected to make landfall early Saturday between Galveston and Corpus Christi, Texas, but experts did not rule out the an impact on the already ravaged neighboring Louisiana.