At 4:05 p.m. on May 30, 1948, a dike failed in the city of Vanport, Oregon situated on lowlands between the Portland and the Columbia River. The ensuing flood swamped the federal housing project, claiming 15 lives and leaving 40,000 citizens homeless.
Last spring, The Skanner Foundation released “The Wake of Vanport,” a very informative documentary about the incident composed of the riveting recollections of survivors of the Memorial Day disaster. Now we have “The Wake of Vanport 2,” the second installment in the ongoing historical project designed to preserve exactly what transpired that fateful afternoon from a variety of different perspectives.
Among the welcome additions to the mix is Betty Deulen, who was 11 at the time of the tidal wave. She recounts how she rushed home to save her parents and young sisters as soon as the dam failed. Her family didn't have a car, so they ended up escaping aboard a bus.
Curnel Waldren, who moved to town at the age of 6 or 7, waxes romantic about the freedom he enjoyed while growing up in Vanport. However, he did dislike the fact that they had no air conditioning so he had to suffer on those hot, hazy, humid summer days.
In terms of the flood, Curnel remembers that the hastily-constructed housing units had been built on poor foundations. Consequently, most folks "lost just about everything they had" in the deluge. Nevertheless, he says the tragedy brought out the best in some people.
Melvin Osbeck was a teenager who drove with friends from southeast Portland to assist during the calamity. He recollects finding a sort of "organized confusion" about how to stem the overflowing water. He was asked to fill sandbags but was also warned to be careful to avoid sinkholes which could very easily sweep him away to his death.
In his video memoir, John Beverage (Brother of Betty Deulen) talks about how much he appreciated moving to Vanport in 1943 since until then he'd been raised on his grandfather's farm without electricity or running water. He soon became a paperboy, saving up to buy himself a bike by selling copies of the Oregon Journal. As far as May 30 of '48, what sticks in his mind is how numerous residents ignored "the wail of the sirens" as well as how the residences would float away after being engulfed in by four feet of water.
The final chapter of this episode revolves around Dorothy and Hurtis Hadley, a couple that's been happily married for more than 50 years and counting. Dorothy's father had worked in the nearby Naval shipyard before send bus tickets for his wife and kids to join him. Hurtis arrived at the age of 2 but was 6 yearsold and flying a kite the day the dike overflowed.
The two go on to recount how they started dating, with Dorothy stealing her future hubby from a girlfriend while he was playing sax for a popular local band called The Fabulous Majestics. However, Hurtis would eventually switch careers and successfully open up his very own bakery.
In sum, kudos to the producers for another fascinating collection of tributes to a beloved hometown that could have just as easily been forgotten forever after being wiped off the map in a flash.
Running time: 37 minutes
Distributor: The Skanner Foundation
To attend the premiere of "The Wake of Vanport 2" in Portland, Oregon on Sun, November 20 at 4:30 PM, click here.