Vanport, OR Dike Break and Flood, May 1948 - Vanport Destroyed
An unidentified number was trapped in flooded houses or were drowned. Officials say they were unable to estimate fatalities.
A spokesman at Red Cross headquarters said "it is impossible to estimate the number drowned."
The Multnomah County sheriff's office said:
"The number might range anywhere between 10 and 1,000. We won't know until the flood goes back."
The neat rows of Vanport's fabricated houses, erected in war time for shipyard workers, were crushed like matchboxes. Houses were lifted by the surging current and smashed into sticks. Others were overturned or left tilted crazily in 10 to 15 feet of water.
"Vanport is a total loss," said Multnomah County Sheriff Martin Pratt. "It has been wiped out of existence."
Hundreds of volunteer workers policemen, Red Cross workers, national guardsmen, and sheriff's deputies moved into the wreckage to search for bodies.
Under the glare of searchlights that reflected from the murky waters, searchers worked their way over rooftops and debris. Shortly before midnight, the Columbia -- approaching its highest flood stage since 1894 -- opened new cracks in its main dikes above Vanport City.
Sirens screamed and whistles blew. Authorities broadcast new alarms, workers hastily left the scene of destruction to wait for daylight.
Scores were injured in the first wild rush to escape the wall of water that struck when the dike burst. Many were treated for immersion or prolonged exposure to water.
Sixty-five Portland elementary schools were converted into emergency shelters for evacuees.
Most of the refugees carried only a few personal belongings, stuffed into shopping bags or suitcases. Parents carried their children. Some registered with the Red Cross, equipped only with the clothes they wore.
The catastrophe hit suddenly and without warning.