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50 to 70 Water Rescues as Record Rain Falls in Wash.

Power was out in the border town of Sumas and at scattered locations throughout Whatcom County as breezy winds and torrential rain from a Pineapple Express swept Western Washington on Monday, Nov. 15.

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(TNS) - A three-day deluge of rain drenched Whatcom County from the North Cascades to Bellingham Bay and the swollen Nooksack River flooded in several places across the lowlands, closing roads and schools and stranding some drivers in their cars.

Power was out in the border town of Sumas and at scattered locations throughout Whatcom County as breezy winds and torrential rain from a Pineapple Express swept Western Washington on Monday, Nov. 15.

“This flood event is looking more like the flood of 1990,” the city of Sumas said on its Facebook page about 8:30 a.m. Monday.

Water was rising past the Cherry Street bridge and would submerge the city for the second time in less than two years, Sumas officials said.

State Highway 9 at the U.S.-Canada border crossing was impassible, according to the Washington State Department of Transportation.

A WSDOT camera showed Highway 9 in Sumas under several feet of water at 9:50 a.m. Monday. All WSDOT cameras in Sumas were offline by noon.

Schools were closed Monday in the Bellingham, Ferndale, Lynden, Meridian, Mount Baker and Nooksack Valley districts. And the Mount Baker district closure will continue into Tuesday, Nov. 16.

Bellingham saw record rain on Sunday, Nov. 14, with a one-day total of 2.78 inches shattering the previous daily record of .88 inches from 1998.

It took less than six hours of non-stop rain Monday to break the record of .87 inches from 2013, according to the National Weather Service in Seattle.

In all, nearly 5 inches of rain was measured at Bellingham International Airport — against an average November rainfall of 5.2 inches.

Because of road closures, access was difficult or impossible to the cities and communities of Lynden, Sumas, Everson, Nooksack, Deming, Maple Falls, Acme, Marietta and Glenhaven — where residents were reportedly sandbagging against flooding from Cain Lake and Reed Lake.

Lake Whatcom Boulevard was closed south of Sudden Valley and northbound Interstate 5 was closed south of Bellingham.

The COVID-19 testing site at Bellingham International Airport has been closed for Monday and Tuesday, after winds tore through the tent at the testing site and destroyed much of its IT equipment, according to an email from Northwest Laboratory Chief Operating Officer Jenny Bull. The site, which is jointly run by Northwest Laboratory and the Whatcom County Health Department, is expecting to set up a new tent in Economy Lot B once conditions are safe for staff, Bull reported, and it is hoped that testing can resume with regular hours on Wednesday, Nov. 17.

North County Christ the King Church in Lynden was offering food, wifi and hot showers to displaced residents from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday.

And the worst appeared yet to come at midday Monday as rain continued and a storm front packing wind gusts to 50 mph approached coastal Whatcom County from the west.

Officials in Bellingham and Whatcom County pleaded with residents to stay home if they can and to avoid sight-seeing.

“Please stay home,” the Bellingham Police Department said on Facebook. “Do not come out and walk around to see. Cars cannot see you and drivers will do strange things once they know water is hitting their engines.”

“Currently Whatcom Creek is running at over 1,000 cubic feet per second and the city’s dam gates are out of the water (i.e. fully open). We do not have flooding downtown, but are watching that closely,” according to an email from Mike Olinger, assistant director of the Bellingham Public Works Department’s Operations Division. “As of 6:30 a.m., the lake level was at 314.0 feet and rising about one inch per hour. By law we are required to have the gates fully open at 314.5 feet anyway, so operators are keeping the gates open for now while trying to minimize downstream impacts.”

Gusty winds were causing trouble in Bellingham early Monday, Olinger said.

“In addition, the wind has started to develop and we are starting to receive calls for downed trees. Public Works will do our best to respond to trees and water issues as they come in. At this point, we are prioritizing life and safety issues and cannot respond to private property damage,” he said.

“The floodwater is continuing to work its way toward town,” the city of Sumas wrote on its Facebook page about 5:30 a.m. Monday.

“The water has already started going over Badger Road. As soon as it starts going over Halverstick Road, we will start to see higher water levels in town. This will start happening in a few hours,” the city said.

An emergency proclamation was issued in Whatcom County, Sunday, Nov. 14, authorizing overtime pay and temporarily bypassing some of the normal procedures for buying supplies.

Officials at the Whatcom County Sheriff’s Office Division of Emergency Management were expecting widespread flooding like a similar storm that hit late January and early February 2020.

“Residents in Everson, Nooksack, and Sumas should now be preparing for high water in and around their area,” said John Gargett, Division of Emergency Management deputy director.

“Some roads have been closed due to flooding and dangerous driving conditions. Driving past a road-closed sign now carries a $500 fine. Residents are encouraged to stay home if possible or travel during off-peak times. Additional roads will close as flooding impacts continue downstream,” Gargett said in a statement.

Residents in low-lying areas were urged to prepare for several days of isolation because of high water — and also to know their escape routes in case they must leave quickly.

“Be prepared to evacuate if flood conditions worsen. Sandbags have been pre-deployed at local fire stations in case they are needed,” Gargett said.

Gargett said fire departments, law-enforcement agencies and others had made 50 to 70 water rescues by 8:30 a.m. Monday, and that a landslide had damaged a house.

As rains ease Monday, the Nooksack River was expected to remain high through Wednesday, according to the Northwest River Forecast Center.

At the Saxon Bridge in Acme, the south fork of the Nooksack crested above major flood stage of 9.5 feet Monday and was expected to fall below flood stage on Wednesday.

In Nugents Corner, the Nooksack remained above its highest recorded mark of 149.5 feet and was expected to fall below flood stage by late Wednesday or early Thursday, Nov. 18.

Farther downstream in Ferndale, the river was expected to crest Wednesday at 22 feet, just below major flood stage.

This story was originally published November 15, 2021 7:17 AM.


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