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Downtown Mount Vernon spared as rivers surge and inundate region

A flood wall completed in 2018 appears to have saved the city's historic business district from the devastation felt by other communities.

From her office window in Mount Vernon’s city hall, Mayor Jill Boudreau has a view of the Skagit River.

When she spoke to KNKX on Tuesday afternoon, the river was swollen, but downtown buildings and streets remained safe from the flooding caused by record-shattering rainfall across the region.

A special flood wall, completed in 2018 after years of planning and construction, held back the Skagit River along Mount Vernon’s waterfront plaza, sparing the historic business district from river levels this city hasn’t seen in 30 years.

Boudreau said she’s grateful to her predecessors who saw the need for the wall about a decade ago, and who insisted it be built a few feet higher than federal flood mapping suggested at the time.

“It was a pretty significant investment for our small city,” she said of the $30 million project. “We’re pretty proud of it.”

Boudreau said there was some seepage going into drains, but the wall held.

“So far, so good,” she said. “My heart goes out to the other communities that haven’t been as lucky.”

The damage elsewhere in the region is devastating. Upriver from Mount Vernon, there was widespread flooding in Skagit County. That, plus dramatic flooding on the Nooksack River in Whatcom County, washed out roads and inundated fields in this heavily agricultural part of Washington state.

In Everson, north of Bellingham, a search continues for a man swept away by rushing water. In the city of Sumas, just south of the Canadian border, three-quarters of homes were flooded and people were going door-to-door to check on people.

And just on the other side of the border, fast-rising water levels overwhelmed rescuers in Abbotsford, B.C., where 1,100 homes were evacuated. Those residents joined thousands of others in the province who were forced from their homes by floods or landslides starting Sunday night. The Canadian military has been sent into parts of the province to help.

Washington Gov. Jay Inslee was expected to see the damage in Whatcom County today. Earlier this week, he declared a severe weather emergency for most of the counties in western Washington.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

Ed Ronco is a former KNKX producer and reporter and hosted All Things Considered for seven years.