BELLINGHAM, Wash. – Days of heavy rainfall and high winds Monday coming from an atmospheric river — a huge plume of moisture extending over the Pacific and into the Northwest — in Washington state caused extensive flooding and mudslides that forced evacuations and closed schools and part of Interstate 5.
The National Weather Service issued flood warnings for several rivers around Western Washington, which has seen nearly ceaseless rain for about a week. Strong winds also hit the region Monday. Gusts pushed 60 mph (96 kph) in multiple places, including a gust of 58 mph (93 kph) at Seattle-Tacoma International Airport.
More than 158,0000 customers were without power in Western Washington at one point Monday afternoon.
Later Monday, Gov. Jay Inslee declared a severe weather state of emergency in 14 Western Washington counties and said the state Emergency Management Division, with support from the Washington National Guard, would coordinate all incident-related assistance.
A state of emergency for the town of Hamilton was declared Sunday. People there, about 80 miles (129 kilometers) northeast of Seattle, were urged to evacuate.
Cars and trailers were packed into the parking lot outside the Red Cross evacuation site at Hamilton Baptist Church, where dozens of residents are waiting out the storm, the Skagit Valley Herald reported.
Skagit County officials were comparing this flood to severe flooding in 2009, when the Skagit and Samish rivers overflowed and caused damage to 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 evacuate because of the threat of potential significant flooding overnight.
Just south of the Canadian border in Sumas, Washington, officials said city hall was flooded and that the flooding event was looking like one not seen since 1990.
“At this point in time there is no reasonably safe way to drive to Bellingham without putting yourself or others at risk. Please do not drive through standing or rushing water,” the city's police department said via Twitter.
Nicole Postma, who owns a coffee stand in Sumas and is president of the Sumas Chamber of Commerce, told The Bellingham Herald Monday that people are nervous.
“We knew that the flood was imminent, but had no idea it would be like this," she said.
Southwest of Sumas, deputies using a Whatcom County Sheriff's Office rescue vehicle were evacuating stranded residents in the Everson area, officials said on Twitter.
Bellingham experienced record rainfall Sunday with a one-day total of 2.78 inches (7 centimeters), crushing the prior daily record from 1998 at 0.88 inches (2.2 centimeters), according to the National Weather Service.
All schools in the Bellingham, Washington, district and nearby districts were closed Monday because of dangerous travel conditions. Mudslides closed part of Interstate 5 just south of Bellingham Monday afternoon with three cars stuck in the debris.
No one was seriously injured and the interstate was later shut in both directions overnight because of flooding and active slides, state Trooper Rocky Oliphant said on Twitter.
Caylon Coomes of Bellingham drove his truck and paddle board from his home near Lake Whatcom earlier on Monday to some flooded city streets near the interstate.
“It looked pretty good out there (by the lake) but the street looks a little bit better,” he said. He met another man in a parking lot and donning wetsuits they waded into the water and paddled away past vehicles stuck in the floodwaters.
On the Olympic Peninsula, several highways were closed in places and the U.S. Coast Guard helped local authorities evacuate people west of Forks, Washington. The agency said on Twitter there were about 10 people in danger and that no injuries had been reported.
A semitrailer truck tipped in heavy winds on the Deception Pass bridge and was leaning on the railing Monday, state troopers said. The driver was able to get out, according to the state patrol.
Emergency officials warned that people should expect to see water in low-lying roadways and should turn around rather than drive through water on the road. That water can be moving swiftly and be deeper than it seems, posing serious risk to people in vehicles.
Forecasters say conditions should improve by Tuesday after parts of the region have seen more than 6 inches (15 centimeters) of rain in the past several days.