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Sumas Elementary won't reopen after extensive flood damage, officials say

Schools were scheduled to reopen Monday, but the threat of even more flooding kept them closed.

SUMAS, Wash — The playground at Sumas Elementary School looks more like a waterpark.

Two weeks after the Nooksack River spilled over its banks the school remains completely cut off from the rest of the community.

District officials say the school is so badly damaged it will never reopen.

"It's just heartbreaking to see the amount of loss and the amount of devastation," Nooksack Valley Superintendent Matt Galley said.

Galley said the devastation goes far beyond the physical.

"We have kids that are afraid of rain right now and wondering if that next rain is gonna bring another flood into their homes," he said.

Galley grew up in Whatcom County and has worked in the tiny school district along the Canadian border for 23 years. 

The flood and its widespread damage closed schools for the ninth day on Monday, not including the Thanksgiving holiday break.

At least 160 students have been displaced due to the flooding.

The district reported 1,200 of the district's 1,700 students still have needs that are at "an emergency level given the number of families and staff displaced from their homes." 

With schools shut down, meal programs are as well, leaving families to turn to the community for food. The Salvation Army and Red Cross are assisting.

Remote learning isn't an option because hundreds of the district's laptops are believed to have been lost in the flooding.

About 300 students from Sumas Elementary will attend three other schools while construction of a replacement school is completed. The new Sumas Elementary currently under construction was not damaged by the flood. The hope is it will be able to open before the end of the year. 

District officials acknowledge the floods pushed the opening back by about a month.

And Superintendent Galley waits to see what more this winter has in store.

"The thing that I don't even want to say out loud is that we haven't even reached school closure season yet," Galley said. "We usually anticipate weather closure season to be after the new year through January and February. The state allows for some waiver days. We have some days built in. I know some people are worried about that so don't schedule vacations for right after school."

More rains are forecast for the area through the rest of week, but they are not expected to be as strong as before.

"That's what it has turned into. We go one day at a time and do the best we can," Galley said.