As deadly storms rocked the state, Gov. Beverly Perdue was kicking up her heels at the horse races in Kentucky with friends and politicians.
In the days after the worst tornado incident in state history, Perdue surveyed the damage before the television cameras, assuring everyone that it brought her to tears.
But it wasn't clear the governor gave a rat's rear end about the situation as tornadoes ravaged the state April 16, killing 23 and injuring 130. Despite two days of media reports warning that deadly storms were coming, Perdue left the state to watch horse races in Kentucky with the state's governor and hang out with some college friends. She didn't immediately come back, either. Or call her emergency personnel to check on the situation. Essentially, the governor went AWOL during the biggest natural disaster the state has seen in at least 15 years.
It's standard after disasters like this for governors to put out a public statement. But for hours after the tornadoes first hit, the public heard nothing from Perdue. Perdue's emergency management staff finally held a press conference without her at 8 p.m., five hours after the deadly tornadoes first struck, Raleigh's News & Observer reported.
State Emergency Management Director Doug Hoell is the guy responsible for coordinating the state's emergency disaster response. He's the first person a governor calls to assess the damage and launch the state's emergency response. Yet at the 8 p.m. press conference, from which Perdue was conspicuously missing, Hoell indicated he had not yet spoken with her.
Six hours after the tornadoes hit, reporters began asking pointed questions about Perdue's whereabouts. By that time, the devastation was national news, plastered across every news channel you turned on. Perdue's communications director, Chrissy Pearson, declined to tell them exactly where the governor was, where she'd been or when she was expected to return, the N&O reported, saying only that Perdue was out of the state attending to a "family obligation."
Perdue's absence was a big deal for ravaged communities because the governor needs to declare a state of emergency to seek disaster aid and to permit large supply and utility trucks into the state to help in the rescue and cleanup, the paper explained.
After more digging by the N&O in the days after the governor's disappearance, Perdue's staff was forced to admit that she wasn't actually visiting Kentucky as part of a family obligation, though her staff claimed that Kentucky Gov. Steve Beshear was a family friend and that she'd left before the final race started at 5:45 p.m..
Why would Perdue leave the state for what was clearly a personal vacation with deadly storms bearing down upon North Carolina?
"Most of the state knew these deadly storms were headed our way at least two days in advance," WWAY NewsChannel 3 in Raleigh pointed out. At WBT, where I work, the storms were big news the day before they hit. Turn on the radio or TV and you couldn't have missed that they were coming. Yet the governor was apparently unfazed.
The political disconnect — heck, the human disconnect — is so large here you have to wonder if this woman is right in the head.
To put this in perspective, consider what happened when former South Carolina Gov. Mark Sanford vanished without a trace. Days before it was discovered that he was cavorting with a mistress, his disappearance made national news — simply because no one could find him. And the state wasn't even facing a historic natural disaster at the time.
Perdue has yet to offer a full public explanation for the situation. We know when she finally flew in because an N&O employee happened to be on the same flight from Charlotte to Raleigh with her the day of the storms, the paper reported. It landed at Raleigh Durham International Airport at 9:20 p.m. that night. She finally held a press conference at 11 p.m., 8 hours after the tornadoes first hit.
This story of the governor's disappearance during the state's hour of need was a big enough deal that papers as far away as the Miami Herald published it. Oddly enough, many Charlotteans are reading about it for the first time here.