The disastrous flood of 1948 accelerated the demand for multipurpose dams on the Columbia River and its tributaries. The 20-day flood was the greatest single disaster in the history of Columbia River Basin.
The toll was 32 dead and 7 missing in the Portland area when the raging Columbia broke through the dike surrounding Vanport and destroyed that community of 18,000. Only the fact that the flood occured on Memorial Day afternoon prevented a much greater loss of life. Nearly 5,000 homes in other communities, 50,000 people were forced to leave their residences, and the economic loss exceeded $100 million. During the flood of 1996 we had an example of how the dams could help. As the Willamette River overflowed its banks, BPA and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers worked together to control the flow of the Columbia River, allowing the Willamette to runoff, which helped avert flooding in downtown Portland.
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