Heavy rains cause flooding and evacuations in the Pacific Northwest
Bellingham, wash. – Days of heavy rain and high winds Monday from an atmospheric river — a huge plume of moisture stretching over the Pacific Ocean to the northwest — in Washington state caused widespread flooding and mudslides that forced evacuations and closed schools and part of Interstate 5.
The National Weather Service has issued flood warnings for several rivers around western Washington, which have seen nearly continuous rain for about a week. Strong winds hit the area on Monday. Storms pushed 60 mph (96 km/h) in multiple places, including a gust of 58 mph (93 km/h) at Seattle-Tacoma International Airport.
More than 158,000 customers in western Washington were without power on Monday afternoon.
Later Monday, Governor Jay Inslee declared a severe weather emergency in 14 western Washington counties and said the state’s Department of Emergency Management, with support from the Washington National Guard, would coordinate all assistance related to the incidents.
A state of emergency was declared in the town of Hamilton on Sunday. People there, about 80 miles (129 kilometers) northeast of Seattle, were urged to evacuate.
The Skagit Valley Herald reported that cars and trailers were packed in the parking lot outside the Red Cross evacuation site at Hamilton Baptist Church, where dozens of residents awaited the storm.
Skagit County officials were comparing the flooding to severe flooding in 2009, when the Skagit and Samish rivers overflowed and damaged homes, farms and infrastructure.
As the water made its way down the Skagit River, people were warned to expect flooding in Sedro-Woolley, Burlington and Mount Vernon. City officials in Mount Vernon on Monday afternoon recommended people living west of the Division Street Bridge to evacuate due to the risk of potentially major flooding overnight.
Just south of the Canadian border in Soames, Washington, officials said city hall was flooded and the flood event looked like an event not seen since 1990.
“At this time there is no reasonably safe way to drive into Bellingham without putting yourself or others at risk. Please do not drive through standing or flowing water,” the City Police Department said via Twitter.
Nicole Postma, who owns a coffee stall in Somas and chairs the Soma Chamber of Commerce, told the Bellingham Herald Monday that people are nervous.
“We knew a flood was imminent, but we had no idea it would be like this,” she said.
In southwest Soomas, officials said on Twitter that deputies who used the Whatcom County Sheriff’s Office rescue vehicle had evacuated stranded residents in Iverson County.
Bellingham saw record rain Sunday totaling 2.78 inches (7 cm) for a day, breaking the previous daily record from 1998 of 0.88 inches (2.2 cm), according to the National Weather Service.
All schools in Bellingham, Washington, and the vicinity were closed Monday due to hazardous travel conditions. Mudslides closed part of Interstate 5 just south of Bellingham on Monday afternoon with three cars stuck in the rubble.
No one was seriously injured and the highway was later closed in both directions during the night due to active flooding and slippage, Trooper Rocky Oliphant says. She said on Twitter.
Kylon Combs of Bellingham drove his truck and paddle board from his home near Whatcom Lake earlier on Monday into some flooded city streets near the highway.
“It looked nice there (by the lake) but the street looks a little better,” he said. He met another man in a wetsuit parking lot and waded into the water and rowed away in front of the vehicles stuck in the flood waters.
On the Olympic Peninsula, many highways were closed in some places and the US Coast Guard helped local authorities evacuate people west of Forks, Washington. The agency said on Twitter that about 10 people were in danger, and there were no reports of injuries.
State soldiers said a semi-trailer truck overturned in high winds on the Deception Passage bridge and was leaning against the fence on Monday. The driver managed to get off, according to the state patrol.
Emergency officials have warned that people should expect to see water on lower roads and to turn around rather than drive through water on the road. Water can move quickly and be deeper than it appears, posing a serious danger to vehicle occupants.
Forecasters say conditions should improve by Tuesday after parts of the region have seen more than 6 inches (15 cm) of rain in the past several days.
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