President Bush, as he readied the federal government for a massive relief effort, on Sunday urged people in the path of Hurricane Katrina (search) to forget anything but their safety and move to higher ground as instructed.
"We cannot stress enough the danger this hurricane poses to Gulf Coast communities," Bush said as the storm roared across the gulf toward New Orleans (search) and other communities. "I urge all citizens to put their own safety and the safety of their families first by moving to safe ground."
With forecasters warning of a category five storm, the president made sure the federal response would not be delayed by already declaring emergencies in Mississippi, Florida and Alabama just hours after a similar declaration for Louisiana. Such declarations make federal aid available to assist with disaster relief, but they are rarely made before a storm even hits.
Working from his Texas ranch, Bush participated via videoconference in a large meeting of federal, state and local disaster management officials preparing for the storm's onslaught. Separately, he spoke by phone with the governors of Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama and Florida.
"We will do everything in our power to help the people and the communities affected by this storm," the president said.
Winds reaching 175 mph and a potentially devastating storm surge were feared when Hurricane Katrina reached land early Monday. The 485,000 residents of New Orleans were ordered to evacuate the city.
In Washington, the Federal Emergency Management Agency (search) was coordinating relief efforts sending water, food and other supplies to staging centers in the Southeast. FEMA was moving supplies from logistics centers in Atlanta and Denton, Texas, to areas closer to where authorities believe the storm will create a need, spokeswoman Nicol Andrews said.
"It's a very dangerous situation at this point," FEMA spokeswoman Nicol Andrews said. "We're ready and awaiting landfall."
The American Red Cross was mobilizing volunteers from across the country for what one official called its largest response to a single disaster in many years.
"This is really an all-hands-on-deck scenario for the Red Cross right now," spokeswoman Carrie Martin said.
The Red Cross urged people, even those who think they are outside the storm's path, to prepare for an emergency.
"It could shift at any point. It's really a matter of not taking any chances, having the supplies in place," Martin said.
Andrews said that FEMA knows "from 30 years' experience that these hurricanes are still largely unpredictable and can turn at a moment's notice."
Officials anticipated a need for emergency shelters as people evacuate the areas expected to be hit hardest by the storm. "As far as people can get away from the storm there will be places for them to go," Andrews said.
The Red Cross encouraged people to turn to friends and family first rather than shelters because of the magnitude of the evacuation. Shelters should be for those who have nowhere else to go, Martin said.