Flooding in Washington State leaves residents wondering what’s next
SUMAS, Wash. – At a small church near the Canada-U.S. Border, volunteers in rain boots and mud-stained work clothes walked around the aisles donating clothing, food, and supplies. hygiene and cleaning products.
Sumas Advent Christian Church was partially underwater two days ago after nearly 10 inches of rain hit the area in 48 hours last Sunday and Monday. The silt from the river still stains the parquet.
âI mean, in the past, this property has always been the town’s refuge,â said Carl Crouse, the pastor of Sumas Advent, as he led the volunteers sorting through the donation bags for distribution. “We had 80 people here [during this flood] and they had to evacuate. The water has just started to come in.
This corner of northwest Washington has been hit hard by natural disasters, and some residents and officials are pointing to climate change as the culprit. The region was hit by a deadly heat wave in June, a historic drought all summer and now a historic rain. And British Columbia has had to contend with unprecedented fire seasons over the past five years, which can destabilize soils and make debris flows more likely in heavy rains.
âWe have the possibility of it happening again this winter, it is a real possibility,â said Jerry Debruin, chief of Whatcom County Fire District 14 in Sumas. âAnd it could happen every year. It’s actually a little depressing. What will happen to a city that could face this kind of problem year after year or every few months? This is the part that I struggle with.
Sumas abuts, and in some cases overlaps, the historic Nooksack River floodplain, a glacier-fed watershed that supports a strong farming community in surrounding cities in the United States and Canada. But a downpour of rain and early season snowmelt prompted the Nooksack to record flows Monday and Tuesday, creating a destructive wave of water that rushed through farmland and river deltas in Lower Nooksack. .
The flood was caused by a atmospheric river which persisted for two days, flooding the area with rain after more than a week of rapid snow accumulation in the nearby North Cascades. , bringing abnormally warm temperatures and little wind or respite for nearly a week, said Armel Castellan, a meteorologist for warning preparedness for Environment Climate Change Canada in British Columbia. The heat wave was blamed for more than 100 dead in Washington only.
âThe way the jet stream behaves in a warming climate is that it’s more likely to stallâ¦ as we saw with the June thermal dome, [where] the high pressure was so strong that it stuck, âsaid Castellan. âAnd it wasn’t just two hot days. It was six days of record heat.
At church this week, Sumas Mayor Kyle Christensen joined in the recovery efforts, donning work boots, jeans and a high-visibility jacket from local firefighters. Nearby, four volunteers pored over soggy sheets of paper filled with the names and addresses of local residents as they tried to determine who needed help, who had flood insurance and where to send volunteers. .
âThis is the second time in two years that we have had a flood,â Christensen said. “2020 wasn’t that bad, but this one came with a lot of breadth and strength and higher water levels.”
He said about 25 homes suffered water damage in the flooding last year, but this time around he estimated that more than 300 homes in Sumas alone were damaged.
“It hurts families a lot, especially those that were affected in 2020,” he said. âThey are losing all their possessions again – it is going to be devastating for them. “
Flooding caused one death in Washington this week and an unknown number in British Columbia. Many communities relied on residents’ boats and trucks and on the heavy machinery of local farmers to perform whitewater rescues as the water rose to 5 or 6 feet in some places.
John Perry, the mayor of Everson, Wash., About 8 miles from Sumas, said a local contractor saved his son, daughter-in-law and two grandchildren from rising waters by taking them to higher ground in the bucket of his front-end. charger.
âIt’s not easy to rebuild a community that has been pretty well decimated,â said Perry, who estimated that about 300 of Everson’s 700 homes were affected by the flooding. âThe pooled resources that we use and normally rely on during times like this all deal with the same problem. The neighbors helping the neighbors is good. But when your neighbor is also submerged in flood water, it makes it difficult. “
Chris Elder, watershed planner for Whatcom County, where most of the damage occurred, said a council member owns a barn next to the river and that whenever there is a flood , it marks the barn at the highest water level.
âAccording to him, this barn has been in his family for over 100 years,â Elder said, âand it is the highest water level he has seen on the barn.