Montana Gov. Greg Gianforte was expected to return home from an overseas vacation on Thursday, nearly a week after his state was ravaged by historic flooding that forced Yellowstone National Park to close.
A spokesperson for the Governor’s Office told NBC Montana that Gianforte will return to his home state Thursday night after taking a “long-scheduled personal trip” with his wife, Susan.
The governor’s office has declined to say where Gianforte was vacationing. However, he was spotted in a restaurant in a small village in Tuscany, Italy, according to photos obtained by Newsy.
Spokeswoman Brooke Stroyke said the governor would be “returning early and as quickly as possible.”
Gianforte, a Republican elected in 2020, was criticized for his absence when Yellowstone River swelled to catastrophic levels on Monday, isolating entire communities in Park, Carbon and Stillwater counties, the Montana Free Press reported.
Through the devastation, Gianforte has been active on social media declaring a statewide disaster on Tuesday but has yet to make a public appearance.
Speculation regarding the governor’s whereabouts first stirred when the state’s formal request for federal disaster relief bore the signature of Lt. Gov. Kristen Juras, “on behalf of Governor Greg Gianforte.” President Joe Biden approved Montana’s disaster declaration on Thursday.
“In a moment of unprecedented disaster and economic uncertainty, Gianforte purposefully kept Montanans in the dark about where he was, and who was actually in charge,” Sheila Hogan, executive director of the Montana Democratic Party, said in a statement. “Again, we ask, where in the world is Gov. Gianforte?”
Gianforte, 61, left the country late last week before the flooding first began. On Wednesday his office said it has been “regularly briefed” on the flooding response since activating the State Emergency Coordination Council on Monday, NBC Montana reported.
According to the outlet, Gianforte did not take the private jet he typically uses to travel around the massive state that is registered to Bozeman Technology Incubator Inc., a company he owns with his wife.
The flooding, caused by concurrent heavy rainfall and melting mountain snow, forced over 10,000 visitors to evacuate the U.S. oldest national park and damaged hundreds of homes. Fortunately, no one has been injured or killed.
Montana’s largest city, Billings, was forced to shut down its water treatment plant on Wednesday after floodwaters caused the Yellowstone River, to rise to 16 feet making the plant inoperable.
Hundreds of bridges in the park were washed away and the deluge and park closures and cleanups could have a lasting impact on the local tourism economy. More than 4 million people visited the park last year, and June is typically one of its busiest months.
With Post Wires