Cattle bellowed in fear, chest-deep in icy waters. An electronic grain-distribution system that feeds tens of thousands of farm animals across Washington State sat wet and useless. In the town of Lynden, the Lagerwey farm had turned into an island, shrinking by the minute against the ferocious rise of the Nooksack River.

The cattle weren’t the only ones scrambling to escape: About a third of the employees on the hardest-hit part of Doug Visser’s dairy operation in nearby Sumas saw their homes ruined or destroyed. The workers, at least, lived. Dozens of cattle across the valley perished.

Any disaster is a mixture of small things and large ones. But the floods of recent weeks in northwest Washington state, with rivers overflowing their banks after a month of record-setting rainfall, came at a deeply vulnerable moment, when the economics of the Covid era had already driven up costs, strained labor supplies and severed supply chains for everything from animal food to fuel to equipment and parts.

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