flood

Mary Cole and Ed Penfield, on their bikes, ponder whether to venture into the water over Cherry Street in Sumas on Sunday afternoon. Eventually, they did pedal a way into the flooded downtown, which reopened Monday. (Calvin Bratt/Lynden Tribune)

Border station, Cherry Street shut down to Monday

   WHATCOM ­— Sumas got swamped with its worst flooding in about 30 years over the weekend, closing arterial Cherry Street and the Sumas border crossing into Monday. 

  Sumas was hard-hit with the northward flow of floodwater that topped Nooksack River levees south of Everson, which had dealt with plenty of turbulent water impacts in town on Saturday.

  Nooksack Valley schools were closed Monday due to flood effects. In photos, Sumas Elementary School looked surrounded by water.

  Lynden and Ferndale downstream on the churning river saw their share of typical road flood closures, but apparently were spared worse inundation this time by the surge of water that headed to Sumas.

  REPEAT? The weather forecast for this week is not encouraging. Snow was falling in Lynden Tuesday, and a “pineapple express” of rain was predicted through Friday, according to The Weather Channel. A flood watch was in effect.

  “Roads across Whatcom County continue to have water and debris,” Whatcom County Emergency Management said in a Monday briefing. “As the waters recede, some roads will require inspection before opening.”

  Early Sunday afternoon, Sumas Mayor Kyle Christensen stood at the intersection of Cherry and Vancouver streets continuing to monitor the muddy knee-deep water that covered much of his city. The flow across miles of farmland from Everson took until about 3 a.m. Sunday to finally surge up out of the Johnson Creek banks in Sumas and spread to the rest of town. 

  “It’s been a long night,” said Christensen, who had gotten about two hours of sleep in the past 30 hours. “We expected some flood water, but not this much.”

  Sumas City Police and Fire District 14 crews were putting in long hours as well, evacuating people as needed and being ready for any worsening situations. 

  Sumas Advent Christian Church was turned into “a safe place to go” on Sunday morning, with coffee, food and blankets available, the mayor said.

  The flood flow was mostly eastward into home neighborhoods and north toward businesses, Christensen said. City Hall in a low spot on Cherry had water “up to it, not in it.”

  The Sumas-Huntingdon border crossing area itself was not flooded, although the approaches to it were.

  With most of Sumas lying in a designated floodplain, most residents are required to buy flood insurance, Christensen said. 

  On Monday, the city’s Facebook page declared “there is nothing wrong with the bridge” of Cherry Street over Johnson Creek,  after a rumor had arisen about the integrity of the bridge from the force of the floodwater.

  Christensen also announced a speedy effort to get Sumas back in recovery mode. A “community cleanup day” would start at 8 a.m. Tuesday. Volunteers could gather behind City Hall. “The focus will be picking up trash and debris in the common areas and roads. We will have another more detailed cleanup of houses that have been affected later on in the week,” the Facebook post said.

  Although he wasn’t here then, by others’ accounting this is the worst flooding Sumas has experienced since the series of three floods that slammed Sumas in November 1989 and 1990, Christensen said. “This is the most we’ve seen since then, it would be safe to say.”

  On Saturday, the Nooksack River’s impact was greatest at Everson starting in the morning and at Lynden by late afternoon. 

  Main Street/State Route 543 between Everson and Nooksack was shut down about midday, and there were reported rescues of folks caught unprepared for the surge of river overflow as it hit. 

  Open land generally between the two towns is the path of Nooksack River overflow toward lower ground in Johnson Creek, Sumas River and ultimately Fraser River drainage in Canada, across the international boundary.

  Everson Police Chief Daniel MacPhee was stationed at the Main Street barrier near Blair, opening it once to let out a fire truck carrying someone out of the restricted area.

  He pointed toward some houses that were believed to have water in them.

  MacPhee said public employees and volunteers filled and placed sandbags in Everson and Nooksack — as was also true in Sumas — to protect buildings and other spots as the flood threat arose. 

  Van Buren and Tom roads to the north had been closed by flooding by 1 p.m. — although high-wheeled trucks, and also a full hay load and a farm tractor were allowed through by monitoring Whatcom County Search & Rescue personnel, and made it through safely.

  At Lynden, 2-year-old Riverview Road below downtown could be driven at 2 p.m. Saturday, but definitely not three hours later, as the crest of the river flooding hit.

  Both Hannegan and Hampton roads (the latter at both ends) were closed, although some vehicles did venture through, with water spraying up from their wheels. 

  North of Lynden, East Badger Road/State Route 546 was kept open even though a stream of water crossed the roadway where swollen Fishtrap Creek hits that drainage barrier. 

  The Pine streets neighborhood in northwest Lynden had its standard poor drainage and for a brief time early Saturday Main Street was closed. 

  The swelling almost to capacity of Double Ditch and Benson streams occurred earlier than that of Fishtrap or the Nooksack, and was starting to subside slightly on Saturday.

  Also flood-related:

  • Already in anticipation of flooding, Hovander Homestead Park and the Tennant Lake Interpretive Center near Ferndale were closed on Friday afternoon.

  • Northbound Interstate 5 was closed near Lake Samish early Saturday due to a landslide affecting both lanes. The spot was cleared after all traffic was rerouted onto the southbound lanes for a while.

  • Heavy rainfall in British Columbia washed away the ground support under Canadian National railroad near Hope, rendering it impassable.