Bush cancels trip to Texas
Visit might have slowed Rita preparations, White House says
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WASHINGTON (CNN) -- Fearing his visit might slow response efforts to Hurricane Rita, President Bush canceled plans Friday to visit search and rescue workers in San Antonio, Texas, the White House said.
Instead, he will head directly to the Colorado Springs, Colorado, home of the U.S. Northern Command.
The relief teams in Texas were preparing to move closer to where the storm is projected to make landfall, and "we didn't want to slow that down," said White House press secretary Scott McClellan.
The visit was scrubbed just minutes before Bush's scheduled departure. He was slated to leave for Colorado at 4:15 p.m. ET, McClellan said.
Earlier, Bush was briefed in Washington by officials at the Federal Emergency Management Agency.
Speaking to reporters on his way out, Bush said the trip was an effort "to understand the relationship that the federal government's role is to support state and local governments."
"I want to watch that happen," Bush said.
"We're now facing yet another big storm," Bush said. "Our job is to assist -- prepare for and assist, the state and local people to save lives and to help these people get back on their feet."
Northern Command the main federal entity that will interact with state and local officials during the storm, Bush said.
"It's an important relationship, and I need to understand how it works better," he said.
The moves came after three weeks of criticism over the Bush administration's response to Hurricane Katrina, a Category 4 storm blamed for more than 1,000 deaths in Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama and Georgia.
Rita, which is expected to make landfall on the Texas Gulf Coast early Saturday, is a Category 3 storm with top winds of 125 mph.
Speaking Thursday at the Pentagon, Bush said state and local governments and his administration were "preparing for the worst."
"This is a big storm, and it's really important for our citizens there on the Texas coast to follow the instructions of the local authorities," he said.
Bush said military units have deployed troops to the area expected to be hit.
"We have resources there to help the federal, state and local officials to respond swiftly and effectively," he said.
McClellan said Bush's visit to Northern Command will give him a better grasp of federal preparations for the storm, which forecasters predict will strike between Houston, Texas, and the Louisiana state line.
Bush was on vacation at his home in Crawford, Texas, about 200 miles northwest of Houston, when Katrina struck on August 29.
On that day, he made a trip to California to promote the administration's prescription drug plan for senior citizens and to give a speech to U.S. troops at a Navy base near San Diego before he returned to Washington two days later.
At the Navy base event, country singer Mark Wills presented a guitar to Bush, and a photo of the president strumming the instrument while thousands struggled to find dry ground, food and water in New Orleans was widely mocked by his critics.
McClellan said the criticism was "unfair," since Bush was keeping in touch with relief officials during the California trip and already had decided to return to Washington.
Bush has since made five trips to the region battered by Katrina. He made a major speech on rebuilding the Gulf Coast last week in New Orleans.
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