Hurricane Rita has strengthened to a category five storm -- the most powerful and potentially devastating in life and property -- and is heading for what could be a direct hit on the Texas Gulf Coast in three days.
Rita is churning west through the Gulf of Mexico, with winds above 260 kilometers per hour.
Mandatory evacuations have already begun in New Orleans -- recently devastated by Hurricane Katrina -- and low-lying Galveston, Texas -- which was nearly destroyed by a hurricane in 1900.
With the fierce storm approaching, President Bush today, Wednesday, declared a state of emergency in Texas and Louisiana.
The President's action ordered federal funding for state and local responses, and authorized the Federal Emergency Management Agency to coordinate disaster relief efforts.
FEMA chief R. David Paulison said in a news conference today, Wednesday, that truckloads of water, ice and food are already in place.
In New Orleans, engineers are racing to strengthen the fractured levee system that failed to hold back floodwaters from Katrina.
The city sits east of Hurricane Rita's target area, but officials warn it would take just eight centimeters of rain to overwhelm the levees and cause more flooding.