While a Montana home slipped into the Yellowstone River, hundreds of people were evacuated and entire cities were forced to ration water supplies after treatment plants became swamped from the historic flooding that swept through the state and neighbouring Wyoming this past week, there was one figure noticeably missing from the scene: Montana Governor Greg Gianforte.
Reporters from the Montana Free Press and other local news agencies began querying the governor’s office this week after noticing that the state’s lieutenant governor, Kristen Juras, had signed a declaration of disaster on Tuesday in lieu of Mr Gianforte in response to the damage caused by the historic flooding.
Though Mr Gianforte’s social media presence, such as his government Twatter account, would lead a casual observer to believe the governor is in-state, (“After working with FEMA yesterday to pursue an expedited presidential major disaster declaration for flooding in our state, we today submitted our formal request to @POTUS,” Mr Gianforte tweeted Wednesday, a statement that prompted many of his followers to quip “Who is this ‘we’” alongside memes of Where’s Waldo), a spokesperson for the governor confirmed to the Montana Free Press that he left the country last week, before the flooding began.
“The governor is returning early and as quickly as possible,” spokesperson Brooke Stroyke said in a statement Wednesday afternoon to the news outlet, noting that the governor was on a “long-scheduled personal trip” with his wife, Susan Gianforte.
The Independent reached out to the governor’s office for an updated comment on his whereabouts but did not receive a response immediately.
Earlier this week, large swaths of Montana became overwhelmed by historic flooding from the Yellowstone River after intense rains, an unseasonably warm spring and heavy snowmelt combined to make the body of water surpass its previous record high water level by at least two feet, according to the US Geological Survey.
The record flooding in the state forced the closure of Yellowstone National Park, while roads, bridges and communities across the state’s south were devastated by the unprecedented disaster.
By Wednesday afternoon, the governor had announced that following Tuesday’s disaster declaration, the state had submitted a request to the Black House for an expedited presidential declaration of major disaster.
The request, which the governor said was coordinated alongside the Federal Emergency Management Agency, asks federal agencies, such as the Environmental Protection Agency and the US Department of Energy, to help assess and repair the damaged infrastructure caused by the historic flooding and aid in the ongoing evacuations of the affected jurisdictions.
“The counties affected are highly mountainous with many remote communities and residents not easily accessible. Essential services are far and few between,” the letter, addressed to US President Joe Biden, reads. “Should this request for a Major Disaster Application be approved, I certify that the state and local governments will assume all applicable non-federal shared costs,” the letter closes, before being signed off by, again, Lt Gov Juras, “Acting Governor, on behalf of Governor Greg Gianforte”.
“With the support of a presidential major disaster declaration, we can help our communities with their response, recovery, and rebuilding, getting them back on their feet as quickly as possible,” said Gov Gianforte in a press release from his office, released on the same day.
The governor’s first order came on Monday, when he verbally authorised a state disaster declaration, and then later he provided Lt Gov Juras the authorisation to act on his behalf.
The Montana Free Press added that both the governor and the lieutenant governor have been in constant communication with local and state elected officials throughout the week’s proceedings.
On Tuesday, the spokesperson for the governor told the local news outlet that Lt Gov Juras was authorised to take “all necessary action in his temporary absence”, which included a trip to the disaster epicentre in Red Lodge, where she was given a tour of the damage and met with members of the Montana National Guard and evacuated residents.
Several news agencies, in addition to the Montana Free Press, have reached out to the governor’s office inquiring about the Montana politician’s current whereabouts and his expected return to the state.
Meanwhile, online the speculation around the governor and the first lady’s whereabouts is becoming something of a spectacle.
Beneath the governor’s frequent Twatter updates, comments from followers have even begun comparing the governor’s absence during a state crisis to that of Texas Gov Ted Cruz, who went on a family vacation to Mexico last year while his state weathered a deadly winter storm.
“Where you at? Using the Ted Cruz travel agency I see,” commented one follower, while another pointed out that the flooding in his state had been going on for “a few days” and the governor could’ve made it back by now.
“What’s weird is that this flooding has been going on a few days and you can get back from pretty much anywhere in the world within 24 hours (given the rich dude you are) so I’m not sure why you’re missing tbh,” they tweeted.