US-Canada border towns assess damage from devastating floods

Residents of Sumas were assessing damage from flooding that hit an estimated 75% of homes, as Washington and British Columbia tried to dry out from an intense, days-long rain storm that cut off key roadways and forced hundreds of evacuations.

Skies were sunny Wednesday morning in the area around Sumas, Washington, where about 500 rescues and evacuations were reported.

"We’re looking at going door-to-door, as waters go down in different parts of town," Sumas Mayor Kyle Christensen told The Seattle Times. "Half is on dry ground, half has water."

The soaking fueled by a so-called atmospheric river that dumped torrents rain on the Pacific Northwest and British Columbia from Saturday through Monday reminded people of western Washington’s record, severe flooding in November 1990 when two people died and there were more than 2,000 evacuations.

While the weather was improving, the situation remained dire in British Columbia, where one death was reported and the Canadian government was sending in the military to help with floods and mudslides that destroyed parts of several major highways.

Immediately across the border from Sumas, police using helicopters and boats had evacuated about 180 residents of a low-lying area of Abbotsford, British Columbia, after they were warned Tuesday of a significant risk to life because of rising water levels. Evacuations continued Wednesday.

RELATED: City of Sumas: Have grab bag ready as significant flooding is expected at Canadian border

Mayor Henry Braun said Wednesday that conditions were bad overnight because a key pumping station was in danger of being overwhelmed. He said crews spent Tuesday night sandbagging around the station and things were "holding steady."

"I’m feeling much better today than last night," Braun said, although he cautioned the danger had not passed.

Those evacuated in Abbotsford joined thousands of others in the province who were forced from their homes by floods or landslides starting Sunday night.

On Facebook, the City of Sumas said Wednesday that water levels were continuing to drop and it looked like the community wouldn’t be affected by additional potential flooding in Abbotsford. It said crews were working hard to clear roads and return power to some parts of town.

"These families and businesses need our prayers and support as we start the process of cleanup and rebuilding over the next few days," the city said in another Facebook post.

Across the border, the body of a woman was recovered from a landslide near the small community of Lillooet, British Columbia. Royal Canadian Mounted Police said at least two other people were reported missing.

Southwest of Sumas, a 59-year-old man from Everson identified by police Tuesday as Jose Garcia remained missing after his truck was swept into a flooded field and he had been clinging to a tree.

In the city Ferndale, also southwest of Sumas, officials urged people in homes and businesses Tuesday to evacuate in an area near the rising Nooksack River. Bystanders near the town’s main street rescued a man Tuesday who mistakenly drove into floodwaters.

City officials on Wednesday rescinded evacuation notices after the river dropped just below moderate flood state, The Bellingham Herald reported. Officials said they were assessing the damage.

More rain fell in Bellingham from Saturday through Monday — about 5.57 inches (14.14 centimeters) — than normally falls there during all of November, according to National Weather Service data. The normal monthly rain total is 5.2 inches (13.2 centimeters) for November, the weather agency said.

Washington Gov. Jay Inslee on Monday declared a severe weather state of emergency in 14 counties. British Columbia Premier John Horgan declared a state of emergency Wednesday following the unprecedented flooding.

It was the second major widespread flood event in the northwest part of Washington state in less than two years, and climate change is fueling more powerful and frequent severe weather, Whatcom County officials told the Bellingham Herald.

KEEP READING: Deputies help evacuate stranded residents in parts of Whatcom County

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