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Governor Promises Help for Flood Recovery, Climate Change

Washington Gov. Jay Inslee promised to use state and federal funds — including funds from President Biden's recent infrastructure bill — to ease the effects of climate change.

Street Flood
(TNS) - Gov. Jay Inslee promised to "aggressively" seek federal aid for Whatcom County and other areas devastated by flooding from a Pineapple Express storm that inundated communities across Western Washington .

Speaking at a flooded Whatcom Transportation Authority commuter parking lot in Ferndale on Wednesday evening, Nov. 17 — with a half-dozen cars in water to their rocker panels behind him — Inslee said he spoke with the mayors of Everson and Sumas and was astonished at the devastation he saw and was surprised that there was only one fatality and that the devastation wasn't worse.

"These communities are extremely lucky. I'm told they did top all-time flood levels in some places," he told reporters.

Now that the floodwaters have begun to recede, damage assessments are starting., Inslee said.

After that, damage figures will be compiled in a bid for federal assistance, he said.

"They have some of our teachers and educators out going door to door to seek damage assessments. We won't have an answer for that for some period of time," he said.

Inslee said he spoke with a homeowner who had just finished repairing his house from the 2020 floods in the same three north Whatcom County communities — Everson Nooksack and Sumas .

"They just finished that, and now they recognize they're probably not going to be able to keep their home, given the recurrent floods that they're experiencing," Inslee said.

He said meteorologists and emergency managers were surprised by the flood's speed and severity.

"It came on very fast. We're going to go back to our models to see if there's anything we can learn from this experience," he said.

Drenching rains of an atmospheric river that lasted from Saturday, Nov. 13 , to Monday, Nov. 15 , quickly melted 4 feet of snow that fell in the Mount Baker wilderness the previous week, engorging all three forks of the Nooksack River .

That three-day deluge followed a less-severe atmospheric river from Nov. 11-12 that left the ground saturated and rivers running high.

Floodwaters spilled into Whatcom County communities from Acme in the South Fork Valley to the Nooksack River delta at Lummi Nation on Bellingham Bay .

Inslee said Whatcom County should prepare for repeated floods and address the causes of climate change.

"We have to realize that we're going to face decades of increased floods in our state of Washington," he said. "All of us are going to have to be resilient facing the increased threat."

He promised to use state and federal funds — including funds from President Biden's recent infrastructure bill — to ease the effects of climate change.

Flooding update

As of late Wednesday, water levels continue to recede throughout Whatcom County , according to a news release from the Whatcom County Sheriff's Office , with rescue efforts turning to recovery and clean-up.

About 100 people are staying at shelters at North County Christ and King and Sonlight Community Church in Lynden .

The American Red Cross planned to open an emergency shelter at 7 p.m. Wednesday at the Northwest Washington Fair and Event Center, 1775 Front St. , Lynden , for people needing shelter and services as a result of flood and power outages in Whatcom County . Face masks are currently required in all Red Cross shelters, regardless of vaccination status.

A Red Cross press release said assistance available at the shelter will include food, cots and other urgent needs. Residents were encouraged to bring family prescription and emergency medications, extra clothing, pillows, blankets, hygiene supplies, important documents and other comfort items. Also, families should bring special items for children and infants, such as diapers, formulas and toys.

Roads still impacted

Some roads remain closed for standing water, debris and failed pavement. "Closed roads that appear to be drivable may have been compromised; there may be damage under the pavement, or other things not visible or obvious," the county stated.

Whatcom County Public Works is assessing roads and bridges as waters recede and the county warned some damaged areas could remain closed for an extended period of time.

Puget Sound Electric will close north Lake Samish Drive from Prescott Lane to the Interstate 5 Southbound on-ramp overnight, 6 p.m. to 6 a.m. , Thursday-Friday, Nov. 18-19 , for repairs in the recent landslide area.

Some schools still closed

Classes were canceled for Thursday, Nov. 18 , in the Mount Baker School District and at Lummi Nation schools. And, Nooksack Valley announced Wednesday that its schools would be closed through Friday, Nov. 19 .

How to help

Donations to help those affected by flooding are being accepted through Whatcom Community Foundation's Resilience Fund . A local donor and Puget Sound Energy have made matching funds available so donations this week are matched dollar for dollar, up to a combined total of $115,000. To contribute to the Resilience Fund , go online to https://bit.ly/3Ck86JW.

This story was originally published November 17, 2021 7:29 PM .

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