HOUSTON – President Bush, who was criticized for a slow federal response to Hurricane Katrina, took a pre-emptive strike Saturday against Hurricane Dean blowing through the Caribbean and threatening the Texas coast.
Bush, who received two hurricane briefings at his ranch, signed a pre-landfall disaster declaration, allowing the federal government to move in people, equipment and supplies immediately in case Hurricane Dean hits the state.
White House spokesman Gordon Johndroe said that after Katrina, the federal government began reaching out to states facing a disaster and suggesting they request the declaration sooner rather than later. Texas Gov. Rick Perry asked FEMA for the declaration late Saturday morning and Bush approved it hours later.
• PHOTO ESSAY: Hurricane Dean
"We are working closely with the state of Texas to address the special-needs populations along the south Texas border, which is the current, projected path of the storm," Johndroe said.
Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff and FEMA Administrator R. David Paulison have been in radio contact with Perry and Texas state officials to make sure the federal government is supplying needed support, he said.
Dean, which forecasters said could threaten the United States by Wednesday, moved through the Caribbean with wind speeds up to 150 mph. It was expected to steer next week into the Gulf of Mexico, with its 4,000 oil and gas platforms. Perry has initiated full-scale preparations. Fuel trucks were dispatched to coastal communities, storm-response task forces were put on alert and supply trucks and other resources were pre-positioned along evacuation routes.
Johndroe said there are three criteria for approving such a declaration: The National Weather Service must determine that a state is threatened by a Category 3 or higher hurricane or higher; the state's governor must have already declared a state of emergency; and state and local authorities need to show that they would need federal assistance to adequately respond.
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"Within the last year or so there has been a process put in place where we reach out to the states ahead of time and we don't just wait for them to begin to think about requesting the declaration," Johndroe said.
"The result of Katrina is the federal government's pro-active stance to go to the states and say `You have this option. Come to us now and request it. ... Call us. Get the paperwork going."
Other federal agencies involved in providing or offering assistance are the Defense and Health and Human Services departments, the U.S. Coast Guard, Northern Command, American Red Cross, National Guard and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.
He said other U.S. officials are working with other regions in the likely path of Hurricane Dean.
FEMA officials have reached out to their counterparts in Mexico and the U.S. ambassador to Jamaica is working with the U.S. Agency for International Development and Jamaican authorities to provide any U.S. assistance needed there. There are USAID teams in Jamaica and the U.S. might be called upon to supply water containers, medicine, generators, disaster hygiene kits, he said.
Bush is to get additional briefings on the hurricane Sunday and Monday from Chertoff who is scheduled to travel to Crawford, Texas, and fly aboard Air Force One on Monday to Ottawa where Bush is meeting with the leaders of Mexico and Canada.
The subject of hurricanes likely surfaced later in the day when Bush and first lady Laura Bush took a short drive down winding roads of fields and pastures of grazing cattle to a 600-acre ranch nearby that is owned by Don Ensenat and Joe Canizaro, both from New Orleans.
Ensenat, one of Bush's fraternity brothers at Yale University and a former ambassador to Brunei, recently stepped down after six years as U.S. chief of protocol, saying the job was taking a toll on his family and wife, who divided time between Washington and New Orleans.
Ensenat has gone into business with Canizaro, a real estate developer, venture capitalist and Republican contributor who views the flooding of New Orleans as both a disastrous setback and opportunity to chart a fresh beginning for the city.
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