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Remembering The 1948 Vanport Flood

OPB | May 27, 2010 11 p.m. | Updated: July 17, 2012 1:08 a.m. | Portland, OR

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By Scott Silver

In this week in 1948, Portland's landscape changed dramatically when a flood destroyed the Vanport war housing project.

 Ed Washington
 Former Vanport resident Ed Washington

The Vanport community was built quickly during World War II to house people who had come from around the country to work in the Kaiser Shipyards.

At it's peak, it housed around 40,000 people.

But on this week in 1948, a flood wiped out Vanport, destroying housing and killing at least 15 people.

Ed Washington's family moved to Vanport during the 40's. He says he still remembers the day of the flood.

"During Memorial Day weekend, everyone was walking up to see the river, because the water was really, really high."

"Around a quarter to four," Washington says, "the sirens went off."

A short time later, the water inundated Vanport.

"It was totally destroyed. Everything in it was gone."

 

We also spoke to Allen Cummings, before his death in February.

 Allen Cumming
 Vanport flood witness Allen Cumming 

His family didn't live in Vanport, but he was biking with friends through Vanport on the day the flood broke.

He described their feelings after making it to safe ground.

"We were very, very scared. Seeing houses float by with people on the rooves. We wanted to help, they would yell to us, but there was nothing we could do."

Cummings died earlier this year. At the time of his death, he was the associate pastor of the University Park Baptist Church, located just above where Vanport used to be.

 

OPB’s Scott Silver produced this look back at memories of the flood.

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