UPDATED JUNE 15, 2022:

Gov. Greg Gianforte announced Wednesday that the state has submitted a request to the White House for an expedited presidential declaration of major disaster amid severe flooding in southern Montana.

The request says Montana and its affected jurisdictions anticipate needing aid from the Environmental Protection Agency, the U.S. Department of Energy and several other federal agencies to assess and repair damaged infrastructure, collect data, aid with evacuations and mitigate flooding.

More than 5,300 yards of debris have been removed from US-89 and HWY 540, the letter says, and more will need to be cleared once floodwaters recede. 

The governor’s office signed a disaster declaration Tuesday, often a precedent step to requesting federal aid. 

“On Tuesday, we began working with FEMA to pursue an expedited presidential major disaster declaration and secure direct federal assistance for Montana communities. Today, we submitted our formal request to President Biden,” Gianforte said in a statement.

The office of Montana Gov. Greg Gianforte declared a statewide disaster Tuesday morning in response to severe, destructive flooding in southern Montana and Yellowstone National Park. 

The worst of the flooding has and continues to hit Park, Carbon and Stillwater counties, though the entire state is under a flood warning. The governor’s office said the order, which suspends certain regulations related to motor carriers and allows the state to tap into the General Fund, would “help impacted communities get back on their feet as soon as possible.”

It was Lt. Gov. Kristen Juras — identified as “acting governor” — who signed the order, though this was not publicly communicated until copies of the declaration’s text were distributed later Tuesday. A spokesperson for Gianforte said the governor is out of the country but has been communicating with officials in the state, and that Juras is traveling to Red Lodge, one of the centers of the flooding, in his absence.

“With rapid snowmelt and recent heavy rains, communities in south-central Montana are experiencing severe flooding that is destroying homes, washing away roads and bridges, and leaving Montanans without power and water services,” Gianforte said in a press release.

The state Disaster and Emergency Services division is supporting officials in the three primarily affected counties, the statement said. A spokesperson for the U.S. Federal Emergency Management Agency said the agency has not yet been asked to respond to the flooding, but that the Montana FEMA Integration Team, which works with Montana DES, is supporting the state. 

Later Tuesday, Gianforte said on Twitter that he is “pursuing an expedited presidential disaster declaration to help cover the costs communities face.”

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Flood watch

Historic flooding of the Yellowstone River and its tributaries overwhelmed social media Monday and Tuesday of this week, as eyewitnesses and agencies posted drone and phone footage of rising waters, washed-out roadways, inundated towns, and bridges and homes swept away by torrential currents. Montana Free Press is compiling a collection of these videos as they…

A spokesperson for the White House could not be reached for comment in time for publication. FEMA had not received any formal requests for federal assistance by Tuesday afternoon. 

Heavy rainfall over the weekend combined with deep snowpack in the Beartooth and Absaroka mountains led to substantial flooding in parts of southern Montana, causing damage and evacuations in Yellowstone National Park and neighboring communities. Rushing waters tore down bridges, homes and sections of road, stranding some people without services. 

“It’s a company town, a Yellowstone town, and it lives and dies by tourism.”

Park County Commissioner Bill Berg 

The governor’s disaster declaration provides the state with “maximum flexibility” to assist communities that have exhausted their own resources addressing the flooding, a spokesperson for Gianforte said. The order suspended certain regulations for motor carriers while providing relief within 30 days of the declaration. 

Gianforte “will return in a few days,” the spokesperson said. 

The governor “is regularly briefed on the flooding and the state’s response, is in communication with state and local officials, and asked Lt. Gov. Kristen Juras to take all necessary action in his temporary absence,” they added. 

Park County Commissioner Bill Berg said in a press conference Tuesday that he’s received “critical” support from the Montana Department of Transportation and has had conversations with Gianforte and U.S. Sen. Jon Tester. 

“They’re certainly tuned to what’s going on here, and recognize the economic challenge that is to come,” he said. “We’re just getting started.” 

That challenge for gateway communities like those in Park County is immense, especially on top of the existing difficulties related to the COVID-19 pandemic and a fire  in Gardiner in 2020. It’s too early to know what sources of relief funding those communities will pursue, but the county will leave no stone unturned, Berg said. 

“[Gardiner is] a company town, a Yellowstone town, and it lives and dies by tourism,” he said. 

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