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Bush will go to Texas to review storm preparations

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WASHINGTON (CNN) -- President Bush will fly to Texas and Colorado on Friday to visit with emergency workers and U.S. Northern Command headquarters ahead of Hurricane Rita, the White House said Thursday.

The visit will enable Bush "to get a firsthand look at the preparations that are under way for Hurricane Rita and to show our support for the first responders as they get ready for the response to Hurricane Rita," White House spokesman Scott McClellan said.

The moves ahead of the storm 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 and Mississippi. Rita, which is expected to make landfall on the Texas Gulf Coast early Saturday, is a Category 4 storm with top winds of 150 mph.

Speaking on Thursday at the Pentagon, Bush said state and local governments and his administration are "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 the Colorado Springs-based Northern Command will give him a better grasp of federal preparations for the storm, which forecasters predict will strike land between Houston and the Louisiana state line.

McClellan said the White House would try to have "as minimal [a] footprint as possible" to stay out of the way of emergency responders. The visit will take just "a short amount of time," McClellan said, but he rejected any suggestion that it is just a photo opportunity for the president.

"This is a catastrophic hurricane that is headed toward the coast of Texas, and the president wants to go and see some of the preparations that are under way and thank all of those who are involved in preparing for this response," he said. "He is the president. And, as he indicated to you all, it is his responsibility when it comes to the federal government's role in these hurricanes."

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 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 Hurricane Katrina. He made a major speech on rebuilding the Gulf Coast last week in New Orleans.

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