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The Vanport Flood (1948)

 
 
Reply Fri 3 Feb, 2006 02:14 am
I've been reading about the Vanport flood which happened in 1948.

See here

Vanport was a city right outside of Portland Oregon that was erased off the map when a dike broke and flooded the entire city, killing several and leaving thousands homeless.

When it happened, it was covered up and kept out of the national news. Now that the same thing has happened in New Orleans (on a much larger scale), it's now being talked about and taught in schools. Ironically, Vanport was mostly a black city just like New Orleans.

The reason I'm so interested in it is because it is rumored that my great grandfather was one of the people that was killed in the Vanport flood. He disappeared right around that time and nobody knows what happened to him.

So, my question is, how would I go about trying to find a roster of the names of people who died in this flood? Every thing I find is just a total number of people.

Anyway, for you history buffs, I highly recommend researching the Vanport flood. It makes for some very entertaining reading!
 
roverroad
 
  1  
Reply Fri 3 Feb, 2006 03:16 am
Re: The Vanport Flood (1948)
I have more to add Laughing . I'm sure it's happened quite a bit with entire towns being erased by a flood, but this one I think should stand out because it's 20,000 people (up to 80,000 at one point.) And at the time it was the countries largest public housing project, and the only one complete with public schools. And the fact that they tried to keep it hush hush when the disaster hit. This town is the very reason why there is such a large black community in Portland today.

See, they did the right thing when they bulldozed the remains of this city and designated the land for recreation only. That's what they should be doing with the lowest parts of New Orleans! Why rebuild something that is going to flood again. This area where Vanport once stood has flooded two more times since 1948. I don't even think it has a working dike anymore.

Here is a satellite image of the land as it is now:

Vanport now (area to the left of the marker)


Here is a map of the city from 1948.

Vanport map in (1948)

I had so much time on my hands yesterday that I took the map and overlayed it onto the satellite image. And when you take it away you can still see the scares on the land where the roads and buildings used to be.

You can see that Bayou lake has been filled in and is now where the Portland International Raceway is.

You can still see Force lake, and you can still see Bayou Slough and Mud Slough in the satellite picture. That'll help get a coordnance (sp?). Right between the two sloughs was the main road into the city and there were hundreds of buildings on either side.
Sturgis
 
  1  
Reply Fri 3 Feb, 2006 07:34 am
It is odd that a listing of some 15 people wouldn't be given out by name (so far that's as far as I have been able to get with this thing...if I find more I'll be back with it).
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roverroad
 
  1  
Reply Fri 3 Feb, 2006 07:39 am
Funny thing is, that death toll is different on every website. I've seen it as high as 20.
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Sturgis
 
  1  
Reply Fri 3 Feb, 2006 07:46 am
As near as I can tell not even the dedication plaque on the Vanport bridge...which mentions the flood and loss...lists the names. A shame, to put it mildly.
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Sturgis
 
  1  
Reply Fri 3 Feb, 2006 07:50 am
roverroad wrote:
Funny thing is, that death toll is different on every website. I've seen it as high as 20.


I saw one that mentioned 38. The usual seems to run at 15, I think maybe some could be from surrounding areas or indirect deaths...not drowned, but died from heart failure or from sustained injuries shortly after arrival at the hospital. Again, the whole thing is shrouded in silence and mystery.


Have to go for now...will check back later and hopefully one of us )or somebody) will find those names.
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roverroad
 
  1  
Reply Fri 3 Feb, 2006 07:51 am
It is a shame. My mother, who lives in Portland is saying the only reason people are talking about this flood now (in schools) is because of the floods in New Orleans. Since most of the dead were blacks and poor people, and since blacks were just barely even allowed to be Oregon citizens back then, they just kind of blew it off as property damage only.
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roverroad
 
  1  
Reply Fri 3 Feb, 2006 09:10 am
This is interesting. The Vanport Residence Handbook:

http://www.ccrh.org/comm/slough/primary/rules.htm
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roverroad
 
  1  
Reply Fri 3 Feb, 2006 09:18 am
The land as it is now without the map overlay, you can see the scars on the land where the roads and houses used to be.

http://i25.photobucket.com/albums/c57/roverroad/vanportoverlay2.jpg

And here is the google satelite image again if you want to zoom in and move around.

maps.google.com
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roverroad
 
  1  
Reply Fri 3 Feb, 2006 09:25 am
Here is a composit that I made with a map pasted over the Google satellite image:

http://i25.photobucket.com/albums/c57/roverroad/vanportoverlay.jpg
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Noddy24
 
  1  
Reply Fri 3 Feb, 2006 12:20 pm
I think you have to take into account that disaster scenes are very messy.

I grew up in Johnstown and have group-mind family memories of the Flood of '89 and the Flood of '36. If someone wasn't aware that you were missing, you weren't officially missing.

There are at least 5000 people "missing" from Katrina--but many of these "missing" are alive and well off the official record.

This morning's newspaper had a story about burying unidentified bodies from Katrina. In 2006 we can keep DNA samples, but this wasn't possible in 2005.
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roverroad
 
  1  
Reply Fri 3 Feb, 2006 09:56 pm
Noddy24 wrote:
I think you have to take into account that disaster scenes are very messy.


That's a really good point. I bet it's probably a good bet that a detailed list of names just doesn't exist. They probably wouldn't have kept very good records in those days. If a list does exist, it's probably buried in a drawer somewhere in a Portland library. Otherwise, I would think someone would have posted the names on a website.
PappaSmurfPro
 
  3  
Reply Wed 3 Oct, 2012 05:04 pm
@roverroad,
I have found 4 names of deceased from the Vanport Flood.
Lorena Smith (Wife and Mother of 3)
Sally Butcher (11 months old)
Michael Butcher (2 years old)
and
Florence Beadle (44 years of age).
The counts mostly say 15, but there were an additional 7 missing as well.
pipr
 
  2  
Reply Sun 15 Sep, 2013 06:18 pm
@PappaSmurfPro,
I had just finished going through a Portland Walking Tour where they mentioned the death toll of 15 from the Van Port Flood. I was shocked. I thought when Dick Bogle (when he was a news caster; KATU I think) did a series of stories in the 80's on Van Port that the truth had finally come out. The death toll was in hundreds (yeah, pleural). I grew up with stories from my grandfather, a Civil Air Patrol pilot after WWII, and his assigned mission to assess the damage from the air. Stories of the bodies lining the riverbanks and the cover ups that followed deeply affected him decades later when he shared this with me. I thought Dick Bogle's reported finally corrected history. That's how I tripped across this posting, looking for some mention of his news stories.
Ol Geezer
 
  1  
Reply Wed 13 Jan, 2016 07:12 pm
@roverroad,
If you haven't, I'd suggest you get the book, Vanport by Manly Maben. It's about the only scholarly authority on Vanport before and during the flood.

The Housing Authority of Portland [HAP] was in charge of the project after it was built by Henry Kaiser. As of 1987 they had kept extensive records. The Multnomah County coroner was tasked with identifying the bodies.

Contemporary 1948 articles show that the flood was national news. The above book has annotations to many national articles.

Vanport was not per se a black development. From it's inception in 1942 through the end of WW II in 1945 it was about 18% black. The percentage rose after the war because blacks who stayed in Oregon had more trouble finding housing than whites. Then when the veterans started a junior college the black percentage stabilized.

The true number of fatalities may never be known. There was a high percentage of 'skips' that left town without checking out. Some bodies may have floated into the Columbia River. The official count is 15 and your great grandfather may be on that list. There were 7 more bodies found and not identified.

Good luck.
0 Replies
 
Ol Geezer
 
  1  
Reply Wed 13 Jan, 2016 07:26 pm
@roverroad,
The total population was around 42,000. At the time of the flood it was 18,500. About 3,000 units had been removed; fortunately they were on the west side of the project where the flood started.

You're absolutely right that the war effort brought a huge racial change in Portland. Vanport was a social experiment. 24 hour child care and really good grade schools that were totally integrated. The housing was mostly segregated and when the Urban League complained HAP said it was at the request of the tenants. All in all Vanport was more racially integrated than Portland. Most blacks in Portland were confined to the Albina area where a black realtor, racketeer, drug and prostitution and entertainment head named Tom Johnson took advantage of blacks.
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ShawnLevy
 
  1  
Reply Sat 22 Oct, 2016 06:21 pm
@pipr,
I'm a journalist working on a Vanport project and I'd like to know more about your grandfather's stories and those Dick Bogle pieces. If you would please reach out to me off this site I'd be grateful: shawnlevy AT gmail.
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Setanta
 
  1  
Reply Sat 22 Oct, 2016 07:05 pm
This thread was posted more than ten and a half years ago. The author of the thread has not posted here in almost nine years. It is unlikely that you will get a response.
0 Replies
 
 

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