Mystery solved: Montana’s governor was vacationing in Italy when his state was swamped by floodwaters, his office confirmed Friday.
“With the governor back in the state and security concerns no longer an issue, we are providing information as promised,” the statement obtained by NBC Montana and other local media read. “The governor departed early Saturday morning to Italy with his wife for a long-planned personal, private trip.”
The statement did not explain the “security concerns” or why the governor chose to return home a week after his state started getting inundated with historic flooding that closed Yellowstone National Park and caused millions of dollars in damage.
“Grateful to be back in Montana, the governor looks forward to being on the ground in Gardiner this morning to survey damage and meet with residents and local officials about recovering and rebuilding,” the statement read.
The governor’s office also confirmed that Gianforte “delegated his authority to respond to the disaster to Lieutenant Governor Kristen Juras with whom he worked closely over the last four days to take swift, decisive action.”
Gianforte, a Republican elected in 2020, tweeted Tuesday that he was declaring “a statewide disaster due to flooding to help impacted communities get back on their feet as soon as possible.”
But most Montanans were not aware that he was out of the state until Wednesday, when the state’s formal request for major disaster relief landed on President Joe Biden’s desk bearing the signature of Juras, “on behalf of Governor Greg Gianforte.”
By then, Gianforte was already taking flak from his constituents, as well as Democrats, for not alerting the public immediately that he was not in the country.
The deluge that caused the crisis in Montana began last Friday, when the southwestern corner of the state was hit with heavy rains, according to the National Weather Service.
Combined with snow melt, the downpour caused the Yellowstone River to swell to near-record levels. And by Monday, thousands of tourists and locals found themselves stranded by rising waters that swept away bridges and caused catastrophic flooding in cities such as Red Lodge, Billings and Livingston.
In addition, about 10,000 visitors were moved out of the national park.
Biden on Thursday approved a disaster declaration that will send recovery funds to the beleaguered state.
Gianforte was evidently still in Italy on Thursday when he fired off a tweet thanking Biden “for swift approval of our request.”