December 3, 2021
Devastated after flooding, north Whatcom County moves into recovery mode

Clean-up crews in hazmat suits remove insulation material from a flood-damaged residence in Everson; a van awaits loading while sandbags stand against further water damage. Recovery efforts will continue into 2022 for especially hard-hit areas in Sumas, Ferndale, Nooksack, Everson and Lynden.

photo: Alan Fritzberg
December 3, 2021
Devastated after flooding, north Whatcom County moves into recovery mode

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Well over 700 homes have been reported damaged in Whatcom County after the area endured three atmospheric rivers in less than three weeks. While cleanup is underway, the impacts on lives and livelihoods will continue for some time.

“We can’t be sure of the total number of displaced individuals, as some are staying with family or friends and have not requested assistance,” Whatcom Emergency Operations Center (EOC) Flood Response information officer Amy Cloud said Thursday. “We do know that on the night of Nov. 30, among the shelters we have in place including the Red Cross, a total of 48 individuals were served.”

Flooding had receded somewhat by Tuesday (Nov. 30) but much water and debris remained, as shown in photos below.

Water covered sections of Highway 9 and other county roads on Nov. 30, making driving particularly hazardous for smaller vehicles. (Alan Fritzberg photo @ 2021)

Samaritan’s Purse (SP), an international organization assisting with disaster response efforts, reported they have completed “wetting out” the homes of more than 40 families since beginning work two weeks ago — pulling out flood-damaged flooring, sheetrock and cabinetry; spraying for mold; and leaving houses contractor-ready.

However, said SP program manager Kristin Holben from her crew’s project headquarters at Sonlight Community Church in Lynden, “almost 200 families are still waiting and we get more requests every day. We’ll be here at least through January.”

At Everson, Loren Hoekema used his tractor to pump water from near his house across the road to add it to the water moving toward Sumas. Many houses still stood at least partly in water at mid-week. (Alan Fritzberg photo @ 2021)

Vital financial and other aid is reaching impacted community members via the Whatcom Community Foundation. As of Dec. 2, through its Resilience Fund the foundation had made 21 grants totaling $816,000 to 15 local organizations working with Whatcom Strong, reported President and CEO Mauri Ingram. 100% of Resilience Fund grants go to local organizations to provide resources for community members. [Disclosure: Salish Current has received funding previously from Whatcom Community Foundation; Editor, Dec. 4, 2021]

“So many people have been devastated by the flooding,” she said. “The good news is that relief checks from local churches and community groups are helping people meet some of their immediate needs.”

More than 80% of Resilience Fund aid has been in the form of direct relief to families and individuals affected by the flooding, she said. “Volunteers continue to tell us how meaningful those checks are to people who, in some cases, have lost everything. To know that people they’ve never met care enough to help gives them hope and fuels their determination.”

Roomy porches of North County houses remain piled high with boxes, in an effort to keep possessions out of harm’s way. (Alan Fritzberg photo @ 2021)

Pivoting from direct emergency response to more long-term recovery efforts, the EOC activated a human services branch to lead work on longer-term needs, such as shelter and transitional housing, debris management and damage recovery. The recovery task force includes mayors of North County Whatcom’s small cities and representatives of business and human service agencies.

Volunteers from the community are playing indispensable roles in the recovery.

“We’ve been thrilled with the local turnout,” for what some call the “mud and muck” work, said SP’s Holben.

Many houses still stood at least partly in water at mid-week. (Alan Fritzberg photo @ 2021)

Local churches are among private-sector groups assisting with relief and recovery, feeding volunteers, housing out-of-town aid workers and helping recruit local assistance. 

A record 14.75 inches of rainfall saturated Whatcom County and Lower British Columbia in November, according to NOAA. The 24-hour total over Nov. 14-15 was 3.46 inches — nearly 25% of the month’s total.

Loading and hauling away damaged appliances, interior surfaces and belongings from Sumas houses continued at large scale this week. (Alan Fritzberg photo @ 2021)

— Photography by Alan Fritzberg; narrative by Salish Current staff

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