Montana Governor Greg Gianforte vacationed in Italy as Yellowstone was crushed by flooding

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Montana Gov. Greg Gianforte (right) was vacationing in Italy when historic flooding swamped his state this week and caused the closure of Yellowstone National Park, his office confirmed Friday.

Gianforte and his wife, Susan, took a “long-planned personal trip” that was cut short after heavy rains flooded southwestern Montana. The governor’s office initially refused to release his whereabouts or say when he would return, citing “security concerns”, although many questioned why Gianforte was nowhere to be found during the floods that prompted him to declare a disaster in statewide.

“The governor left early Saturday morning for Italy with his wife on a long-planned personal and private trip,” his office said in a statement Friday after Gianforte returned. “When severe flooding hit, the governor delegated his authority to respond to the disaster to Lt. Governor Kristen Juras with whom he has worked closely over the past four days to take quick and decisive action.”

The governor’s office added that Gianforte is “grateful to be back in Montana” and plans to “investigate the damage and meet with residents and local officials about recovery and reconstruction.” “. Gianforte appeared at a briefing in the town of Gardiner on Friday.

As Montana reeled from flooding, Governor Gianforte was nowhere to be found

The governor’s office did not immediately respond to a request for comment early Saturday.

Heavy flooding swept through the area and washed away homes, bridges and roads. Montana National Guard soldiers have been deployed throughout the Yellowstone area and the Red Cross is operating evacuation centers across the region.

Drone video shows flooding in Paradise Valley on June 13. (Video: Paradise Valley Aerials/Storyful)

The flooding – a mix of torrential rain and melting snow in the southwestern corner of the state – particularly affected Yellowstone National Park, from where around 10,000 visitors were evacuated and at least 88 others were airlifted by the Montana National Guard from surrounding campsites and towns. No deaths or serious injuries have been reported near the park, a beloved tourist attraction that covers 2.2 million acres.

The unpredictable arrival of water caused spectacular floods that broke century-old records. The US Geological Survey confirmed this week that the flooding along the Yellowstone River was a 1 in 500 year event. The Yellowstone River in Corwin Springs, Montana rose six feet between Sunday and Monday to its highest level on record, several feet above the previous high note noted in 1918.

In maps, photos and videos, discover the full force of Yellowstone’s floods

Gianforte declared a statewide disaster on Tuesday in an effort to “help affected communities get back on their feet as soon as possible.” Then, on Wednesday, some in Montana began to wonder why Juras, the lieutenant governor, signed the state’s formal request to President Biden for major disaster relief “on behalf of Governor Greg Gianforte.”

It was then that the governor’s office began to receive repeated questions about Gianforte’s whereabouts. Outlets such as the Montana Free Press ran articles with headlines that read, “Where’s Greg Gianforte?” The Montana Democratic Party has denounced the Republican for missing “a mysterious international vacation during an emergency flood.” When the governor’s office initially said Gianforte was out of the country and would “come back soon and as quickly as possible,” critics were unimpressed.

“The fact that [the flooding] is so extreme and his office has just been pretty recalcitrant about where he is and what’s going on isn’t great,” said Eric Austin, a public administration professor at Montana State University who teaches a course on leadership and government ethics, at the Free Press.

Record flooding destroyed buildings and infrastructure in communities near Yellowstone National Park, Montana on June 13-14. (Video: Jackson Barton/The Washington Post)

Gianforte’s absence has prompted critics to compare him to Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Tex.), who left the country for Cancun, Mexico when Texas suffered the killing winter freeze of 2021. Unlike Cruz, however, Gianforte left before the emergency started. .

Although absent from the scene, Gianforte presented himself on Twitter as actively responding to the floods. Gianforte announced Thursday that he had “obtained” a major disaster declaration from Biden, which the governor said would provide federal assistance to “further help our communities respond to severe flooding, recover and rebuild.” The press release, however, did not mention his whereabouts or an expected return date.

On Friday, Gianforte made his first public appearance since returning from Italy, joining officials including Sen. Steve Daines (R-Mont.) at a location in Gardiner overlooking the Yellowstone River. The governor acknowledged that the cleanup and rebuilding would take time, but said efforts were already underway to repair damaged infrastructure.

“I understand the tragedy that has happened. It has wiped out businesses, and with them livelihoods here in the community,” Gianforte said, according to the Bozeman Daily Chronicle. “That is why [to] get that entrance to the park open as soon as possible, it’s so important.

Yellowstone tweeted Friday that a limited reopening of the park was “highly possible next week”.

“Yellowstone continues its efforts to recover from historic flooding,” the park wrote, posting photos of some of the damage to the park’s south loop.

Gianforte underscored his commitment to seeing Yellowstone reopen as soon as possible and once again showing Americans “all that Montana has to offer.”

“I want you to hear it loud and clear,” the governor said, “Montana is open for business.”

Karin Brulliard, N. Kirkpatrick, Jason Samenow, Dylan Moriarty and Laris Karklis contributed to this report.

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