News

Assessing the 
Damage

Flood damage response continues in Whatcom County

Wednesday, November 24, 2021

State flood inspectors are in Whatcom County this week to formally assess the level of damage and dollar impact from severe flooding after days of rain released by an atmospheric river that crossed the region, a plume of moisture that stretched across the Pacific. Floodwaters rushed through Northwest towns, particularly those along major river systems like the Nooksack and Skagit, which crested their banks.

The Whatcom County Sheriff’s Office said the teams are from the Emergency Management Division of the Washington State Military Department. They will gather data to confirm information collected by communities to determine damage and enable a request for federal aid, Sheriff Bill Elfo announced at a press conference.

“This is the critical first step in the normal protocol of formally assessing the level of damage and the dollar impact,” the Sheriff’s Office reported. “There will be two teams made up of three individuals from the state and two from local governments. The teams will gather data to determine the level of impact to help justify the request for an Individual Assistance Declaration from the Federal Emergency Management Agency.”

Whatcom County officials estimate the damages may total $7 million to $10 million.

Visiting the area last week, Gov. Jay Inslee promised to “aggressively” seek federal aid for Whatcom County and other areas devastated by flooding. He said he was surprised that there was only one reported fatality and that the losses from flooding weren’t worse.

“These communities are extremely lucky. I’m told they did top all-time flood levels in some places,” Inslee told reporters. “The strength and resilience of these communities is inspiring.”

The Red Cross continues to operate two shelters that were housing a few dozen people north of Seattle in Hamilton and Lynden.

Sumas, close to the Canada border and the Fraser River delta, was coordinating cleanup efforts after floodwaters damaged an estimated 85 percent of the residences. Police in Everson reported that more than 600 volunteers in Everson and Nooksack and 500 in Sumas were at work on flood cleanup.

“We helped clean up over 170 homes, eclipsed 300 tons of waste disposed of, and made a big dent in the work that was needed to start the rebuilding process,” Everson Police reported.

Several roads north of Bellingham are still affected by the flooding, the Washington Department of Transportation reported.

A site has been set up for flood-impacted residents to bring flood debris for disposal.
“Climate change is making these once-in-a-generation floods a more frequent reality for our state,” Rep. Suzan DelBene said in statement. “I am pushing to get out federal resources as soon as possible to respond to this extreme flooding but also to make the necessary investments over the long term to address the growing threat of climate change.

“In addition to existing FEMA resources, the bipartisan infrastructure law that President Biden signed will help improve our communities’ resilience to flooding. The law includes loans and grants for communities facing rising water levels, coastal erosion, and flooding as well as financial and technical assistance for states and communities to reduce the risk of flood damage to homes and businesses.”

Aid for farms and farmers

Of growing concern to flooded farms along the Nooksack River is the health and safety of more than 100,000 dairy cows and livestock running short of food. An initial needs survey by the state Department of Agriculture reported many farms are just days away from running out of feed for their cows. The Washington State Dairy Federation requested assistance from suppliers and drivers to help dairy farmers.

Farmers are dealing with dire financial impacts from the storm. Many of them lost animals, equipment, and even their homes.

“An initial needs survey says many farms are one-to-two days from being out of feed,” Fred Likkel, who works with the Dairy Federation, said. “If the farms can’t get their total mixed ration for their cows, some feed will help them keep the cows on a maintenance or survival ration. Grains are most needed.”

Local businesses and industries are pitching in to help. The Whatcom Community Foundation has established a Resilience Fund to assist with urgent need. To date, the fund has granted more than $280,000 to organizations in communities hardest hit by the flood disaster.

“Our local industries, including BP Cherry Point and Phillips 66 Ferndale Refinery, are providing direct support with personnel and equipment. Farmers Equipment has provided large farm tractors that were used to evacuate people from their homes in Sumas,” reported the Sheriff’s Office, which is helping coordinate the emergency response.

Other organizations are focused on displaced farmworkers.

“Climate change disproportionately impacts agricultural workers in Whatcom County,“ Rosalinda Guillen, executive director of Community to Community Development, said in a statement. “The weather events earlier this week led to many families evacuating their homes, losing pets, irreplaceable belongings, and vehicles.”

The farmworker support group’s outreach, C2C Promotorasm, are working directly with families in Whatcom County to assess needs for support.

“In the coming days and weeks, many families will be faced with difficult decisions, costly repairs, or needing to find new homes,” Guillen said. “We have set up a Solidarity Relief Fund which will go directly to farmworker families impacted by this catastrophic event.”

The Whatcom County Library System has pulled together a database of community resources to help in the event of emergencies. You can start with the featured list of resources that specifically help with recovering from a flood disaster or search the table using key words like “Roads” or “Sumas” or “Food.” For example, search “recover” for a list of resources to help with disaster recovery. For more information, go to http://www.wcls.org/community-resources/

Those with flood-damaged property are requested to report their damages to County Sheriff’s Office Division of Emergency Management (DEM) at 360-788-5311. Take photographs and document all damage and be prepared to provide details of your circumstances. Get/keep receipts for all flood-related materials and repair services. Report your damage as soon as possible to 360-788-5311. This process is the same for everyone regardless of insurance status.

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