Governor Jay Inslee visited Whatcom County to talk about the impact and damage the county faced following record rainfall and unprecedented flooding, two days after declaring a severe weather emergency on Nov. 15.
Visiting Whatcom County for the day, Inslee talked to reporters in front of a flooded parking lot outside the Whatcom Transportation Authority Station in Ferndale. He was joined by Whatcom County Executive Satpal Sidhu and state Rep. Alica Rule. During the press conference, he vowed to “aggressively” seek federal aid to help recovery efforts in Whatcom and other counties.
Spending Wednesday touring the areas most severely impacted by the floods, he gave an early estimate of around 500 homes that have suffered significant damage in the flooded region.
In a Tuesday morning press release, Bellingham Mayor Seth Fleetwood said the extent of the damage to the city is not yet known. The city is still in the process of tallying the damage to both city and private property.
Most city streets in Bellingham have reopened for use. As of Wednesday evening, parts of Iowa street near Interstate 5 were still closed due to flooding.
Read The Front's full flood coverage here.
Parts of Northern Whatcom County, including Everson and Sumas, were hit particularly hard by the flooding and are still dealing with extensive recovery and clean-up.
Around 1:05 p.m. on Wednesday, search and rescue volunteers located the body of a man they believe to be 49-year-old Jose Garcia, an Everson resident who went missing during the flooding on Monday.
There has been an outpour of support during this time and Representative Alicia Rule of Washington’s 42nd district acknowledged the hard work community volunteers and first responders offered in the wake of the climate emergency.
Inslee said he has witnessed extraordinary efforts during this time and has been coordinating with mayors to address immediate housing needs.
“This community has [been] hit by the strong currents of the Nooksack River, but they have been saved by the strong currents of community strength that we have seen,” Inslee said.
With road closures, school closures and evacuation of homes, many have been forced to seek shelter elsewhere. About 100 people are being housed in shelters in the Lynden area. The flooding Whatcom County experienced has topped all-time flood levels in certain locations, Inslee said.
While unprecedented in Whatcom County, Inslee said there will be an increase in flood threats given the climate crisis.
“We are in a permanent state of attack in our state by the forces of climate change,” Inslee said.
Following the recent passing of an infrastructure bill from Congress, Inslee acknowledged there will be funds available to help rebuild roads, sewer systems and water systems, so they can better prepare for future floods.
“We have to realize that we are going to face decades of increased floods in our state of Washington, this is one flood of unfortunately many that we will be experiencing,” Inslee said.
The recovery effort will take time, Inslee said, noting that the state will be aggressive in its efforts to obtain federal assistance for business owners and homeowners.
Urging the public to report records of damage they have faced due to flooding, Inslee said the more dollars compiled, the higher the chance of receiving individualized federal assistance.
The Whatcom County Foundation is accepting donations through their Resilience Fund to aid in the recovery, matching donations dollar for dollar up to $115,000.
The full press conference was live-streamed on The Front's Instagram page. Follow for future live news coverage.
Watch the full video here.
Bella Neff (she/her) is a third-year student studying journalism and political science, and reporting on city news. You can reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org.