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Calamity: The Heppner Flood of 1903by Joann Green Byrd
Synopses & Reviews
June 14, 1903, was a typical, hot Sunday in Heppner, a small farm town in northeastern Oregon. People went to church, ate dinner, and relaxed with family and friends. But late that afternoon, calamity struck when a violent thunderstorm brought heavy rain and hail to the mountains and bare hills south of town. When the fierce downpour reached Heppner, people gathered their children and hurried inside. Most everyone closed their doors and windows against the racket.
The thunder and pounding hail masked the sound of something they likely could not have imagined: a roaring, two-story wall of water raging toward town. Within an hour, one of every five people in the prosperous town of 1,300 would lose their lives as the floodwaters pulled apart and carried away nearly everything in their path. The center of town was devastated. Enormous drifts of debris, tangled around bodies, snaked down the valley. The telegraph was down, the railroads were out, and the mayor was in Portland.
Stunned survivors bent immediately to the dreadful tasks of searching for loved ones and carrying bodies to a makeshift morgue in the bank. By the next afternoon, thousands of individuals and communities had rushed to the town's aid, an outpouring of generosity that enabled the self-reliant citizens of Heppner to undertake the town's recovery.
In Calamity, Joann Green Byrd, a native of eastern Oregon, carefully documents this poignant story, illustrating that even the smallest acts have consequences — good or bad. She draws on a wealth of primary sources, including a moving collection of photographs, to paint a rare picture of how a small town in the West coped with disaster at the turn of the twentieth century.
"A riveting story about a heart-breaking event." Gerald Baldasty, author of Vigilante Newspapers: A Tale of Sex, Religion, and Murder in the Northwest
Book News Annotation:
Byrd has been a journalist for 47 years, working for various newspapers including the Seattle Post-Intelligencer and the Washington Post. She grew up 60 miles from Heppner, a small town in northeastern Oregon to which her grandparents had moved in 1907, which was the hometown of her father and numerous other relatives. Though none of her family had personal experience with the devastating 1903 Heppner Flood, the 2003 Flood Centennial piqued her interest, resulting in this chronicle of the events contributing to the disaster and the valuable lessons learned. Illustrated with b&w photographs. Annotation ©2010 Book News, Inc., Portland, OR (booknews.com)
In 1903 a flashflood overwhelmed the banks of Willow Creek and inundated a small but prosperous farming and trading town in northeastern Oregon. More than 200 people died and much of the town was destroyed. Byrd describes the flood and its aftermath, and tells the history of the individuals involved.
About the Author
Joanna Green Byrd is a retired journalist who wrote for the Washington Post and Seattle Post-Intelligencer.
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