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Sumas couple abandons home to save church family during flooding

Sumas residents took shelter in a church that hadn't flooded in 100 years, until Monday.

SUMAS, Wash. — Jodi Hammond could only stand and watch as a piece of heavy machinery dropped a lifetime of possessions into a dumpster on Wednesday.

With nearly everything her family owns lost, Hammond had a hard time finding the words to make sense of it all.

"I don't know how you process this," she said. "You kind of just jump through it in bits and pieces."

The Hammonds, including their three children, have lived in their modest Sumas home for 5.5 years.

Jodi's husband Chad is the pastor at Sumas Advent Christian Church, right across the street.

On Monday, the couple had about 80 people seeking sanctuary in the church and waiting out the flood when water started coming inside the church and their house.

"My son kept asking me if we were going to die," Hammond said. "I told him we're not gonna die, but the panic and anxiety were hard."

With the floodwaters rising quickly, the Hammonds realized they had no choice but to abandon their own home and move their church family to safety. They huddled together as volunteers in boats and on tractors plowed through the 4-foot deep waters to carry people to safety.

The Hammond home would have to wait.

Locals say the part of Sumas where the church is located hasn't flooded in a century. That meant nothing, though, to the relentless Nooksack River as it swallowed up the Sumas community and rewrote history.

"We just thought, how do we love our neighbors. This is how we love our neighbors, by taking care of them," Hammond said. "My house could float away but if we can help people's lives not be lost that is what's important."

About 80% of the homes in the tiny border town suffered some sort of water damage from the flooding that occurred when an atmospheric river brought several days of heavy rain.

The Hammonds were finally able to return to their house Tuesday. They started boxing up the few possessions left above the waterline. Volunteers showed up to rip out waterlogged carpets and save anything else that was salvageable.

By Wednesday, Jodi Hammond found friends waiting for her with a warm meal. It was a rare opportunity to laugh and offered a few moments of what it feels like to be "home" again - with so much to still be grateful for.

"Normally we are the helpers, so when you're in the spot where you need the help it can really be overwhelming," said Hammond, a kindergarten teacher. "It's so beautiful and you wish this wasn't the way you had to experience it, but it truly is beautiful."

Church leaders have set up a donation website to help flood victims. 

Other efforts are underway to help people impacted by flooding as well. The Whatcom Community Foundation is accepting donations to its Resilience Fund. It is matching dollar for dollar, up to $115,000.

RELATED: How you can help Whatcom, Skagit county flood victims