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Heavy rains bring flooding, evacuations in Pacific Northwest

A westbound car is caught in a spray of water thrown up by a pickup truck on Highway 20 Monday, Nov. 15, 2021, near Hamilton. The heavy rainfall of recent days will brought major flooding of the Skagit River that is expected to continue into at least Monday evening.
Elaine Thompson
The Associated Press
A westbound car is caught in a spray of water thrown up by a pickup truck on Highway 20 Monday, Nov. 15, 2021, near Hamilton. The heavy rainfall of recent days will brought major flooding of the Skagit River that is expected to continue into at least Monday evening.

Heavy rainfall and high winds in Washington on Monday caused flooding and mudslides that forced evacuations and closed schools and part of Interstate 5 near Bellingham as storms pounded the Pacific Northwest.

The National Weather Service warned that winds nearing hurricane strength were possible in the region that has seen nearly ceaseless rain for about a week. A gust of 58 mph (93 kph) was reported Monday at Seattle-Tacoma International Airport.

More than 158,000 customers were without power in western Washington at one point Monday, The Seattle Times reported.

A state of emergency for the town of Hamilton was declared Sunday afternoon and people there, about 80 miles northeast of Seattle, were urged to evacuate as soon as possible, the Skagit Valley Herald reported.

The Red Cross was operating an evacuation shelter in the Baptist Church in Hamilton.

As the water was making its way down the Skagit River, people were warned to expect flooding in Sedro-Woolley, Burlington and Mount Vernon. On Monday, a few people operated personal watercraft in a playfield flooded by water in Sedro-Woolley.

In Sumas, just south of the Canadian border, officials said city hall was flooded, adding 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 on 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 on 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 district and nearby districts were closed Monday because of dangerous travel conditions. A mudslide closed a portion of northbound Interstate 5 near Bellingham Monday afternoon with three cars stuck in the debris.

A crumbled hillside pushes against a barrier on a freeway. A large pine tree that's uprooted is across the pile and lying partially on the roadway.
Washington State Department of Transportation
via The Associated Press
In this photo provided by the Washington State Department of Transportation, a rock and mudslide briefly closed a portion of Interstate 5 through Bellingham on Monday. There was widespread flooding in the area as storms continued in the Pacific Northwest.

No one was seriously injured, state Trooper Rocky Oliphant said on Twitter, and there was no estimated time for the road to reopen.

Caylon Coomes of Bellingham drove his truck and paddleboard from his home near Lake Whatcom 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. 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.

Two people in wet suits carry paddleboards and wade into a flooded intersection. Two other people in rain gear look on.
Lisa Baumann
The Associated Press
Caylon Coomes, second from left, and another man prepare to paddleboard in floodwaters on city streets in Bellingham on Monday, Nov. 15, 2021. Widespread flooding in the Pacific Northwest amid days of heavy rainfall caused people to evacuate their homes, stranded drivers, and closed businesses, roads and schools.

Updated: November 15, 2021 at 4:19 PM PST
Photo of paddleboarders in Bellingham added.
Updated: November 15, 2021 at 4:14 PM PST
MAJOR UPDATE: Updates with more information from AP throughout.
Updated: November 15, 2021 at 1:32 PM PST
Photo of slide near Bellingham added to story.
Updated: November 15, 2021 at 1:28 PM PST
Fresh details throughout, via AP.
Lisa Baumann is a Seattle-based reporter for The Associated Press.