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Heavy rains bring flooding and mudslides to the Pacific Northwest and Canada

Two men look at a partially submerged recreational vehicle in the flood-swollen Skagit River in Sedro-Woolley, Wash., on Monday.
Two men look at a partially submerged recreational vehicle in the flood-swollen Skagit River in Sedro-Woolley, Wash., on Monday.

A massive wind and rain storm that began Friday is causing flooding and mudslides in the Pacific Northwest near the Canadian border, leading to the closure of an interstate highway, evacuations and power outages.

On Monday, Washington Gov. Jay Inslee declared a severe weather state of emergency for 14 counties in the western part of the state.

Landslides caused by rain and wind as well as saturated soil from an earlier storm led to the closure of Interstate 5 overnight. The West Coast's main north-south highway, which had been blocked off in both directions, partially reopened Tuesday morning.

Dramatic drone video posted by the city of Bellingham, Wash., showed abandoned cars in streets submerged by floodwaters and people using kayaks to get around.

Multiple areas of the state faced evacuations, and more than 158,0000 customers in western Washington had no power at one point Monday afternoon, The Associated Press reported. Many schools were also closed or delayed.

Flood warnings remained in effect for several counties into Tuesday afternoon, but the National Weather Service said the high waters were expected to recede.

A rock and mudslide briefly closed a portion of Interstate 5 through Bellingham, Wash., on Monday.
/ Washington State Department of Transportation via AP
A rock and mudslide briefly closed a portion of Interstate 5 through Bellingham, Wash., on Monday.

"Thanks to all the crews working to keep Washingtonians safe," Inslee tweeted Monday evening.

The devastating flooding also extended into Oregon, where officials in one area rescued 20 people and three dogs from an inundated RV park.

Heavy flooding across the state closed roads, trapped people in their homes and knocked out power in one area, the Salem Statesman Journal reported.

An "atmospheric river" brings the severe weather

Monday's severe weather was caused by an "atmospheric river" that had been pelting the Pacific Northwest with rain and heavy winds for days, according to the AP.

Atmospheric rivers are long, narrow bands of water vapor in the sky that often release rain or snow when they make landfall, NOAA says.

Local residents walk up to a flooded roadway in Sedro-Woolley, Wash., on Monday.
Elaine Thompson / AP
Local residents walk up to a flooded roadway in Sedro-Woolley, Wash., on Monday.

Because a warmer atmosphere holds more moisture, it means that climate change makes rain and extreme flooding events even worse.

British Columbia is also facing heavy rain and winds

The storm's devastating effects were felt across the Canadian border, where wind and storm warnings were in effect across British Columbia on Monday.

The entire city of Merritt was ordered to evacuate after the municipal wastewater treatment plant failed, the CBC reported, and authorities were using helicopters to rescue 275 people who had been stranded on a main highway.

The province saw rain, wind and even forecasted snow that caused power outages and prompted officials to close schools and block some roadways, according to CTV News Vancouver.

Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

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