Whatcom County plans to request federal assistance for Noocksack River flood damage recovery

Officials are getting a closer look at just how bad the damages are from destructive flooding along the Nooksack River in Whatcom County

Elected leaders met on Tuesday to discuss updates in flood response efforts in communities across the county and to determine what is needed to help in the recovery.

This flood was unlike anything many have ever seen in Whatcom County. More than 300 people were displaced, several dozens of properties and homes were destroyed.

"Four feet of water in your kitchen. And it’s not just water—it’s all the debris, all the silt, everything else sitting in every nook and cranny and your driveway and everything else," said Whatcom County Executive Saptal Singh Sidhu. 

John Gargett is the deputy director of the Whatcom County Sheriff’s Office Division of Emergency Management. During the flood response briefing, he said estimates in the preliminary damage assessments are already indicating record numbers.

RELATED: State flood damage inspectors headed to Whatcom County

"We do know from the level of damage that we’re going to be well above the 1990 flood, and that was in the $25 million range," said Gargett. "I would not be surprised to see the total here end up in the…I would not be surprised to see it at $50 million."

He said those estimates are still preliminary since so many places damaged by the high waters have not been assessed yet, like roads, public properties and businesses.

"One of the other issues on the damage assessment though is the impact to the dairy industry. There’s a company which produces 80% of all the dairy feed in western Washington and lower mainland of British Columbia which essentially had all their infrastructure taken offline and destroyed," said Gargett.

Congresswoman Suzan DelBene said she is working with local, county and state leaders on a plan to secure federal assistance towards the county’s current recovery and beyond.

RELATED: Whatcom Co. community comes together to help in flood damage cleanup

"Unfortunately, we’re seeing these events more often and that means that the community has been at greater risk. And we’ve got to look at that and look at what the long-term plan is to help keep the community safe," said DelBene. "We know many roads were damaged, bridges—looking at what can be done in the future to help keep the community safe. Also, it’s going to be incredibly important to look at what we can do to help people right away."

DelBene, the U.S. Representative for District 1, said the plan for some of those federal dollars would be to improve infrastructure, in an effort to reduce the risk of severe flooding. She said officials are working on their request for federal assistance to the state.

"The state has to make the request first and then federal assistance would come into play. Once the state makes that declaration, the president makes a declaration, then FEMA will look at what types of assistance might be available," explained DelBene.

Elected leaders said the focus right now is just helping as many people as possible get back on their feet.

"Bringing some kind of semblance to their life—the kids have to go to school, people have to go to work and they have their own chores to take care of that," said Sidhu.

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