Gov. Bev Perdue was attending a horse race in Kentucky on Saturday, visiting with old friends and that state's Democratic governor as a line of deadly storms swept across North Carolina.
When she learned of the extent of damage from the tornadoes, she cut the trip short and returned to Raleigh Saturday evening, according to Perdue spokesman Mark Johnson.
Perdue's whereabouts was something of a mystery Saturday as there was no appearance or public statement from the governor in the hours after the storm.
The governor was not present at the 8 p.m. media briefing and state Emergency Management Director Doug Hoell indicated he had not yet spoken directly with her.
There was also no indication of whether Perdue would officially declare a state of emergency, an order that allows the state to seek federal disaster aid and permits large supply and utility trucks to enter the state to help in the rescue and cleanup.
Shortly after 9 p.m., about 6 hours after tornadoes ripped through Raleigh and the surrounding area, Perdue communications director Chrissy Pearson said that Perdue had been out of the state attending to a "family obligation."
Pearson refused to say exactly where the governor was, where she had been or when she was expected to return to the state capital.
Johnson clarified on Sunday that Perdue was in Lexington, Ky., visiting with fellow Democratic Gov. Steve Beshear.
Perdue was elected in December as vice chair of the Democratic Governors Association, a political and fund raising organization. Johnson said the visit was purely social and that there were no fund-raising events while Perdue was in Kentucky.
Johnson said Perdue also visited with four of her former roommates from the University of Kentucky, where she went to college.
In response to a query from The N&O, Johnson confirmed that the governor had attend the Toyota Blue Grass Stakes, a thoroughbred horse race held Saturday.
Though preliminary races were held earlier in afternoon, the Blue Grass Stakes started at 5:45 p.m. Johnson said he did not know precisely when the governor left Kentucky, though he said she was back in the state "by the early evening."
By chance, an N&O employee returning from a business trip to Kentucky was seated one row behind the governor on a US Airways commercial flight from Charlotte that departed at about 8:45 p.m. and landed at RDU about 9:20 p.m.
Perdue's staff hastily called a media conference for 11 p.m., the governor's first public statement following the storm. At that time, Perdue announced that she was declaring a state of emergency.
Johnson said that there was no delay in issuing the declaration or in getting needed help to survivors of the storm because the governor had been away.