Video: Blanco’s performance

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updated 10/11/2005 12:53:38 PM ET 2005-10-11T16:53:38

WASHINGTON, Oct. 8 — It was Gov. Blanco's first big disaster — and less than 48 hours before Katrina hit, she reassured the state. 

"I believe we are prepared," she said in Jefferson Parish on Aug. 27. "That's the one thing that I've always been able to brag about."

Though experts had warned it would take 48 hours to evacuate New Orleans, Blanco did not order a mandatory evacuation that Saturday.

"We're going to pray that the impact will soften," she said.

Blanco and the mayor waited until Sunday, Aug. 28 — only 20 hours before Katrina came ashore — to order a mandatory evacuation, the first of what disaster experts and Louisiana insiders say were serious mistakes by the governor.    

"It certainly appeared that there was a lot of indecisiveness exhibited by the governor in the early stages of the disaster," says Louisiana State Democratic Senator Donald Cravins.

A key criticism: the governor's slowness in requesting federal troops. She told the president she needed help, but it wasn't until Wednesday, Aug. 31 that she specifically asked for 40,000 troops. 

That day, in a whispered conversation with her staff caught on camera, the governor appears to second-guess herself.

"I really need to call for the military," Blanco tells an aide.

"Yes you do, yes you do," is the reply.

"And I should have started that in the first call," Blanco adds.

Another key mistake, experts say, was Blanco's lateness in getting the Louisiana National Guard, which she commands, on the streets to try to establish security.

"It would have been better if it had happened sooner," says Jane Bullock, a former FEMA official during the Clinton administration.

And remember the chaos at the Convention Center? We now know there were at least 250 guardsmen deployed in another part of that building. But they were engineers, not police, so they were not ordered to help restore order or even to share their food and water.

"I think we would have hurt a lot of people if we'd tried to take that on," says Dough Mouton, commander of the Louisiana National Guard's 225th Engineering Group.

The governor would not say whether she made the decision not to use those  troops and tells NBC News her state's response to Katrina was "very well planned and executed with great precision and effectiveness." 

"How can anygovernor argue that they have done what they can do when people were left on an interstate without food and water for a week?" asks Roy Fletcher, a Louisiana political consultant.

The governor has said she takes responsibility for what went wrong, but insists her biggest mistake was believing FEMA officials who told her help was on the way.

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