Whatcom County flood losses could reach $50 million from last week's atmospheric river

<p><p>Damages from flooding in Whatcom County could reach as high as $50 million, Whatcom County officials said at an online briefing Tuesday, Nov. 23., at the Whatcom Unified Emergency Operations Center.</p></p><p><p>John Gargett, deputy director of the Whatcom County Sheriff’s Office Division of Emergency Management, said he wouldn’t be surprised if public and private damages and economic losses reach that mark.</p></p><p><p>Included among that $50 million, Gargett said, were estimates of $15 to $20 million in damage to houses in the area, “tens of millions of dollars” in damage to public infrastructure and another $15 to $20 million in damage to area business centers.</p></p><p><p>A Pineapple Express storm drenched Whatcom County for three days and the Nooksack River surged over its banks on Nov. 14, inundating the communities of Everson, Nooksack and Sumas — where City Hall, the post office and some 80% of homes suffered water damage.</p></p><p><p>A BNSF train derailed, the U.S.- Canada border closed in Sumas, three bridges in Bellingham were closed, and landslides blocked Interstate 5 south of Bellingham, isolating the city for more than a day.</p></p><p><p>Gargett said recovery will be a long process.</p></p><p><p>U.S. Rep Suzan DelBene, D- Kirkland, whose 1st District includes northern Whatcom County, said she grieved for Jose Garcia of Everson, who was swept away by floodwaters, and for those who lost their homes and businesses.</p></p><p><p>“I’m heartbroken for what’s happened,” DelBene said. “I am heartbroken for the family of Mr. Garcia, for the life that was lost during this disaster.”</p></p><p><p>DelBene promised to help steer federal aid toward those who suffered losses.</p></p><p><p>“It’s been incredibly difficult across the board for families, many who were just starting to recover from the last floods we had,” DeBene said.</p></p><p><p>After the meeting, she said she planned to tour the devastation in Everson and Sumas and talk with displaced residents as Gov. Jay Inslee did last week.</p></p><p><p>“I want to help communities get as much resources as possible to help both with public infrastructure as well as helping families,” she said.</p></p><p><p>Whatcom council briefing</p></p><p><p>Much of the most severe flooding was in areas that had been hard-hit by a similar atmospheric river storm in early 2020, and in several years previously, said Jon Hutchings, director of the Public Works Department.</p></p><p><p>“It’s been 30-plus years since there’s been a flood of this scale,” Hutchings told the Whatcom County Council during a committee meeting Tuesday afternoon.</p></p><p><p>Hutchings said 160 bridges throughout the county have been examined since Friday, Nov. 19, with no obvious structural damage found.</p></p><p><p>U.S. Army Corps of Engineers crews started repairs Tuesday on Nooksack River levees in four locations, including near Lynden and on the Lummi Peninsula.</p></p><p><p>Ten county roads remain impassable, Hutchings said.</p></p><p><p>“There’s a lot of damage out there, no question, but the amount of major damage is pretty moderate considering the size of this flooding,” he said.</p></p><p><p>Another pressing issue is debris removal and disposal, Gargett told the County Council.</p></p><p><p>Some 1,200 volunteers helped clear homes and properties last weekend in Everson, Nooksack and Sumas, Gargett said.</p></p><p><p>Cleanup efforts are continuing, and those cities are struggling to pay dumping fees of $100,000 for Everson and $125,000 or more for Sumas, he said.</p></p><p><p>County Council members were considering an urgency measure at their Tuesday night meeting to pay those fees and seek reimbursement from the Federal Emergency Management Agency.</p></p><p><p>Gargett told the council that 500 to 600 homes were affected in the hardest-hit communities.</p></p><p><p>“There are going to be, quite candidly, several thousand people without Thanksgiving,” he said.</p></p><p><p>And those people have emotional needs, as well as concerns over food, clothing and shelter.</p></p><p><p>“We have a large number of people who’ve reached out for counseling, Gargett said.</p></p><p><p>Meanwhile, damage assessments were continuing and would be added to losses in 13 other Western Washington counties that Gov. Jay Inslee declared as disaster areas — with the hope of getting federal aid.</p></p><p><p>All losses must be meticulously documented, but reimbursements won’t come quickly and won’t cover everything.</p></p><p><p>“It’s not going to be fast enough. It’s not going to be enough when it does come,” Gargett told the council. “None of these federal programs make people whole.”</p></p>