On the Saturday edition of the NBC Nightly News, anchored by John Seigenthaler, correspondent Lisa Myers reported several critical mistakes made by Louisiana Governor Kathleen Blanco in handling the Hurricane Katrina crisis. The story even showcased a whispered conversation, recorded by CNN, between Blanco and an aide in which Blanco admitted she had been too slow in asking for federal troops. Blanco: "I really need to call for the military ... and I should have started that in the first call."
Myers also relayed that when Blanco and New Orleans Mayor Ray Nagin ordered a mandatory evacuation 20 hours before Katrina hit, they were ignoring the advice of experts who had warned it would take 48 hours. Additionally, Blanco was slow to get National Guard troops to restore order. A complete transcript of the story follows:
John Seigenthaler: "In the aftermath of the hurricanes, NBC News has been taking a hard look at response failures by government officials, and there are plenty to go around. We've already brought you reviews of federal and city actions. Well, tonight, NBC's senior investigative correspondent Lisa Myers focuses on the performance of Louisiana Governor Kathleen Blanco."
Lisa Myers: "It was Governor Blanco's first big disaster, and on that Saturday, less than 48 hours before Katrina hit, she reassured the state."
Governor Kathleen Blanco (D-LA): "I believe that we are really prepared. That's the one thing that I've always been able to brag about."
Myers: "Though experts had warned it would take 48 hours to evacuate New Orleans, Blanco did not order a mandatory evacuation that Saturday."
Blanco: "And we're going to pray that the impact will soften."
Myers: "She and the mayor waited until Sunday, 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."
State Senator Donald Cravins (D-LA): "It certainly appeared that there was a lot of indecisiveness exhibited by the governor in the early stages of the disaster."
Myers: "A key criticism, the governor's slowness in requesting federal troops. She told the President she needed help, but it wasn't until Wednesday 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."
Blanco: "I really need to call for the military."
Unidentified female aide: "Yes, you do. Yes, you do."
Blanco: "And I should have started that in the first call."
Myers: "Another key mistake, experts say, Blanco's lateness in getting the Louisiana National Guard, which she commands, on the streets to try to establish security."
Jane Bullock, Former Clinton FEMA Official: "It would have been better if it had happened sooner."
Myers: "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 directed to help restore order or even to share their food and water."
Colonel Doug Mouton, Louisiana National Guard: "I think we would've hurt a lot of people if we'd tried to take that on."
Myers: "The governor would not say whether she made the decision not to use these troops, and tells NBC News that her state's response to Katrina was, quote, 'very well-planned' and 'executed with great precision and effectiveness.'"
Roy Fletcher, Louisiana Political Consultant: "How could any governor argue that they have done what they can do when people were left on an interstate without food and water for a week?"
Myers: "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. Lisa Myers, NBC News, Washington."