BELLINGHAM — 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 was reported Monday at Seattle-Tacoma International Airport.
More than 158,0000 customers were without power in western Washington at one point Monday, The Seattle Times reported.
A state of emergency for the town of Hamilton, about 80 miles northeast of Seattle, was declared Sunday afternoon, and people there 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.
Just south of the Canadian border in Sumas, officials said city hall was flooded and 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 Sunday with a one-day total of 2.78 inches, crushing the prior daily record from 1998 at 0.88 inches, 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 on Monday afternoon with three cars stuck in the debris.
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 paddle board 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.
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 said conditions should improve by Tuesday after parts of the region have seen more than 6 inches of rain in the past several days.