Washington and B.C. flooding: Damaged homes, strengthened community

Sydney Brummel– Staff Writer

Sophomore Levi Korthuis has lived in Lynden, Washington his entire life, next to almost all his extended family. When he returned for Thanksgiving Break, however, he barely recognized his home. 

“One of the first things I noticed as I was driving into town was an entire playset just sitting out in the middle of a raspberry field,” Korthuis said.

Unprecedented flooding has overwhelmed the northwestern part of Washington state and southeastern British Columbia for the past several weeks. Many homes have sustained millions of dollars’ worth of damage. In Korthuis’ home area, the nearby Nooksack River flooded, sweeping cars off the road and completely submerging fields in water. Across the border, four people died as of Nov. 21 in B.C., according to an article from The Globe and Mail.

“My sister has a neighbor with a child with a disability who is hooked up to an oxygen tank,” Korthuis said. “Their house went out of power…they were just sitting on their porch, watching the waters come up, with their child hooked up to a generator.”

Korthuis’ sister and brother-in-law were two of the hundreds of people affected by the Washington floods. Around midnight on Nov. 15, river water flooded the couple’s neighborhood.

“They left at like three in the morning and had to wade through around four feet of water to where my parents met them on one of the roads,” Korthuis said.

Damage in communities varied. The majority of Lynden, as well as the more elevated parts of Washington, had hills to protect its cities from much of the flooding. However, surrounding smaller towns faced extreme damage – one of these towns being Korthuis’ sister’s home. 

“Most of the houses got hit with between a foot and four feet of water,” Korthuis said. “My sister and her husband had a foot and a half, so it was enough to ruin pretty much everything, like couches and appliances.”

Flooding itself is not unusual in northwestern Washington. However, it typically occurs in the spring months of March and April, after all the fields have been harvested. The atypical timing of these November floods stirred up several theories explaining its causes. Korthuis suspects two primary reasons.

“We got a record amount of rain in one day’s amount of time, and then we also got snow melt,” Korthuis said.

The second potential cause has to do with the Nooksack River.

“We don’t really dredge the rivers,” Korthuis said. “Flooding has gradually gotten worse…It went over pretty easily.”

Although another swell of flooding occurred at the end of Korthuis’ Thanksgiving Break, the water retreated for the most part. After the strongest initial floods, residents began tearing out insulation, drywall, cabinets, and flooring a few days later.

Homes covered by flood insurance are currently waiting on funds to start repairs; however, many people, including Korthuis’ sister and brother-in-law, have homes outside of a flood plan and do not have flood insurance. Thankfully, the family and numerous other residents have experienced enormous support from the surrounding community.

“The community stepped up in a way I didn’t even think they’d be able to,” Korthuis said.

Within a day of the floods, churches in the surrounding area organized spaces for people who had lost their homes to find shelter and food. Countless individuals, both inside and outside the church, volunteered and donated to help community members in need. Korthuis’ family, for example, had twenty-five church volunteers come to their house to remove all the insulation from their home’s crawlspaces. A job that would have likely taken the couple at least a week took just one hour.

“It’s so powerful,” Korthuis said. “The church community, we’re supposed to go out and bring the gospel to people, but we’re also meant to help out people…to see that work better than insurance companies, it’s really cool.”

Further north, sophomore nursing major Sarah Breukelman and her family call Abbotsford, B.C. home. With her three older siblings and two parents, Breukelman has lived almost her entire life in Fraser Valley on a chicken and blueberry farm.

“Over the past three weeks, we have had a significant amount of rainfall,” Breukelman said. “We got a month’s worth of rain in one day.”

Flooding worsened nearby Sumas Prairie, a bowl-shaped region surrounded by mountains, due to melting snow and high levels of rain. At some points, the water level reached up to three feet.

The intense flooding caught many people off guard, resulting in limited measures taken in the region prior to prevent or limit the flooding. Unfortunately, many homes and farms underwent serious damage.

“It’s kind of unrecognizable in some senses,” Breukelman said. “Water is just everywhere.”

The Sumas area is an agricultural region with many dairy and chicken farms throughout the prairie. Forced to evacuate their farms and leave animals behind, farmers now grieve the death of numerous livestock. 

“It’s definitely been difficult for me and some of my friends from Abbotsford,” Breukelman said. “We feel really distant from it all, and we wish that we could be doing more to support people back home right now.”

Like Korthuis in Washington, Breukelman has been impressed with how quickly her community banded together to provide aid. Her parents and church started a flood response team, supporting people evacuated from their homes and in need of access to food, bathrooms, and shelter. Across Canada, citizens have donated all sorts of supplies, while individuals in the Abbotsford community have opened-up their garages to give these supplies to people in need.

“In this way the flood is a really cool opportunity for community building,” Breukelman said. “I can’t really remember a time where we had to come together in this way and all work towards the same goal.”

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