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'Devastation': One month after floods, Sumas slow to return to normal

Roger De Bruin had a heart attack while rescuing people from the first round of flooding. He doesn't expect to be in his home for another six to nine months.

SUMAS, Wash — Over a month has passed since the November floods that inundated Whatcom County doing $50 million in damage.

As Roger De Bruin returned to his flood-damaged home, Thursday, one word came to mind.

"Devastation," he said bluntly.

Roger bought the modest rambler 6 years ago and completely remodeled it. At 63 the second-generation dairy farmer was looking forward to slowing down a bit, but life had other plans.

"Basically, we're just starting over," he said.

About 26 inches of water filled the home. Roger and his wife lost almost everything. They're now staying with a friend.

Roger expects to be out of his home for another six to nine months as he waits for insurance money and aid to become available. Complicating matters are workforce and supply chain issues caused by the pandemic.

"It's difficult," he said. "You get the runaround. You call one and they transfer you to someone else. In the end, I don't know where it's gonna end up at." 

In Sumas, alone, floods damaged 85% of the homes.  On Thursday, sandbags remain stacked in driveways. The streets were largely deserted.

Homes sat gutted and empty with people's belongings left in soggy piles outside to be hauled away. Government assistance has been slow to trickle in.

"Just because the floodwaters aren't around us right now doesn't mean there's not a huge need," said Sumas Mayor Kyle Christensen.

Christensen said it will be another month, at the earliest, before people find out what, if any, relief they'll get.

"The tough part for these families and businesses is waiting so long after you've lost so much. Not having that aid is difficult. They're already going through a tough time," he said.

Volunteers have been feeding flood victims and helping clear away debris.

The Whatcom Community Foundation has been distributing grant money of about $1,500 per household. 

Many more volunteers will likely be needed because so many people did not have flood insurance.

"What's gonna be huge moving forward is volunteers that are capable of helping with materials, labor or cash donations to get people what they need to get back in their houses," said Christensen.

As for Roger, also a volunteer firefighter, he suffered a mild heart attack while rescuing people from their homes when the flood first hit.

By the very next day, he was right back at it. He believes that sort of work ethic will help him and his community soldier through until brighter days come.

"Hopefully you just take it a day at a time and move on," he said.

Those interested in helping can visit the Whatcom Strong website to donate and for more information. 


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