1948 was the year of the flood. The Columbia River flooded that year completely wiping out the town of Vanport, Oregon. It was never rebuilt. My Aunt Elsie Everest and her husband Ralph lived in Cathlamet Washington, right on the river but on the Washington side…. still they were affected as were friends and other members of their family. Aunt Elsie kept scrapbooks and diaries for about 40 years of her adult life and I’ve been privileged to read them and note many of the entries. What follows is her account of the flood as she watched it unfold.
May 28: Nice day – Warm. Columbia River rising. Called Jean, not so well. Letter from Della.
May 29: Holiday. Everyone worried about high water. No danger yet… planes flying over for observation and photography. Dinner at Carol’s, stayed till 10:30.
May 30: Hot day. Board busy (note: this refers to the telephone office). People worried. Break at Vanport on dyke. Terrible thing – wall of water flooded everything. Lives lost. Horrible.
May 31: Puget Island evacuated. Ralph & I for walk – tired. So noisy couldn’t think. People and animals all over town. Dust & noise. Blew siren at 12 PM.
June 1: Hot – Town upset, noisy, & we were swamped. No time to think or do anything for ourselves.
June 3: Cool. (Puget) Island and Skamokawa flood condition bad. I went to lunch at 12 – lights out – back to office in 2 min. Lights on so ate toast & coffee at home.
June 5: Hot day. Tide really high. Down to dock to meet radio men (emergency help).
June 6: Terrible day – Hot – Tired – Everyone on edge.
June 7: Hot. Telephone office so full of men we couldn’t think.
June 8: Warm rain. Dyke broke at 10:30. I sounded siren for ten minutes. Board came alive. Worked hard. People filled the streets. Bed at 4 AM. Everyone feels ill. Back street full of trucks passing in steady stream with sand and sand bags.
June 9: Hot day. Terribly busy. Misc. gear came. Water 12 inches at school by noon. People in the office until 11 PM. We all worked at desk, board and counter.
June 13: Warm day. Carol & I went to Puget Island, went all around the Island to her house in “Duck” (Army). The Army men took her to the house in rubber raft. She got in upstairs window – parked shoes on roof peak. Island is a terrible sight. Road across Island – 12 feet of water.
June 16: Hot day. Carlson, man on dredge drowned.
June 17: Nice day. Ralph & I for walk up to school. Inspected kitchen, Red Cross soon, nice. Soldiers camped there playing ball. Saw the Governor (Walgren) & party. Lovely rainbow.
June 22: Lovely day. Cold AM. Meat market in Skamokawa fell down & hit back of telephone office.
June 23: Toll failure – 6:35 – 11:45. Fire at Knappa – Pile driver stuck under Puget Island Bridge. Coast Guard helped get it out. Oh me!
June 24: Cold – wind. Carol to Island – Brought some things home to wash. Water still in the house. Dewey nominated for President _ Warren Vice President.
June 28: Early morning fog – heavy – hot PM. Went to Island in PM with Carol. What a mess! Forest fire at Crown (Zellerbach).
And so it went. Life gradually returned to normal in Cathlamet and eventually on Puget Island as well. People cleaned up, painted up, and moved back home. Not so for residents of the town of Vanport, Oregon which ceased to exist on May 30, 1948.
Picture of the flooding.
Susan J. Edminster, July, 2009, Granite Falls Washington, All rights reserved
Picture is the property of Kay Chamberlain, used with permission