LIVINGSTON, Mont. – Montana Gov. Greg Gianforte and part of the state's Congressional delegation spent Friday surveying the damage in their state after heavy rain and snowmelt caused devastating flooding.
Homes were destroyed, bridges were washed away and Yellowstone National Park has been temporarily closed.
Gov. Gianforte visited Gardiner – one of the areas the hardest hit by the flooding – and joined Sen. Steve Daines (R-Mont.) and U.S. Rep. Matt Rosedale on a helicopter tour of the damage.
"This is where I grew up," Sen. Daines said. "And to see that was just heartbreaking. And you heard that from the community today. It’s heart-wrenching to see the impact this is having on their lives."
Heavy damage was sustained along Highway 89 which is the popular route that leads to the north entrance of the park. Large sections of the road have been destroyed by the floods, and officials said it’s likely that roads in the north section of the park will not reopen this season.
The flooding created dangerous conditions in the region. According to the Montana Army National Guard, 88 people had to be rescued from the floodwaters. They currently have 16 soldiers on the ground in Red Lodge assisting with keeping travelers safe along Highway 212.
"We are hoping that we are beyond the worst of this, but it is springtime in Montana, and we still have snowpack that is melting and subject to have some additional severe rainstorms at any time, which would actually make this worse," Rosendale said. "I'm going out today to visit the area to assess the damage, and make sure that we can get any red tape out of the way to get these people back on their feet again."
The delegation will also be briefed by incident managers. Gianforte held a roundtable discussion on the response and recovery efforts with local business owners as well as federal, state and local officials.
During the meeting, one lodge owner held up a stack of canceled reservations, highlighting concerns tourists were going to now stay away during the busy time of the year for fears of flooding damage and impacts.
But officials stressed while the northern area of Yellowstone Park may be closed for an extended period, they want to get the message out there is still plenty of other things to do and see in Montana.
This all comes amid concerns about the possibility of waters rising once again this weekend as temperatures warm.
Meanwhile, President Joe Biden has approved a major disaster declaration for the state of Montana. This unlocks additional federal resources for the state as it recovers from the floods.
Gianforte has been criticized for being out of the country on a personal trip while floodwaters ravaged the state.
The governor's press secretary, Brooke Stroyke, said the governor departed early Saturday morning to Italy with his wife for a long-planned personal and private trip.
"When severe flooding struck, the governor 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," she said in a statement Friday.
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