Big flood of 1948 displaced a thousand

May 2, 2012 

Here's the original story of the 1948 flood. The banner headline was in huge type, but not as big as the "Nixon to quit" headline some 31 years later on August 9, 1974.

1000 families forced out
Published on May 27, 1948
By the Herald staff

More than 1000 Tri-city families fled the waters of the Columbia and Yakima rivers this morning as county and city authorities moved to avert disaster from an impending flood. The word to evacuate the river road area from Kennewick to the Yakima River bridge was given at 10 p.m. yesterday by the Benton County sheriff's office.

Immediately families began storing possessions and harnessing trailers to escape the persistent flood water.

All trailer and cabin camps on the river side of highway 410 were ordered evacuated. For the most part all were emptied by 5 a.m. today. However Capt. A.E. Barron of the Richland patrol said some die-hards were hanging on "come hell or high water."

The Columbia which has been threatening for the past two weeks, grew rampant yesterday when it raised an additional foot of water. At the same time a cloud-burst north of Yakima swelled the Yakima river into a raging torrent causing authorities to estimate a high of four to six feet sometime today.

At Richland on the orders of the Atomic Energy Commission heavy equipment of the Atkinson and Jones and Tertling and Sons Construction companies, worked frantically to raise the level of the county road connecting Richland with the Y. Fifty vehicles ranging from heavy bulldozers to 11 yd. end dump trucks and 16 yd. belly dump trucks rushed dirt and rocks over the Yakima River bridge and onto the highway.

Officials said they intended to raise the road level as much as five feet near the bridge and from four to five feet to the Richland Y. The work will keep the road closed between 9 a.m. and 4 p.m.

Authorities reported their work seriously hampered by a large amount of telephoning, much of it believed to be unnecessary, going on between the three towns.

They emphasized that during the present emergency, it is highly important that calls be limited only to those urgently necessary.

The 1000 families who fled last night were quartered throughout the area. Milton Cydell, information control officer for the AEC said this morning that some 250 trailers had entered the North Richland trailer camp area near Parkview homes. Meanwhile Kennewick officials worked to save the causeway leading to Clover Island, which is now no more than a dot between Kennewick and Pasco.

Councilman Paul Richmond who directed operations yesterday had a canal cut through the island in an attempt to relieve water pressure from the causeway. The Columbia also surged through the island at two different sections.

There was pathos in this morning's rushed moving. The R. Rossi family, living near the Richland Y, was forced to leave the home they have occupied for the past 26 years for the first time. Their son Ralph said that during other floods the river had come close but that only once before had the family contemplated leaving. They are being moved to a nearby home of Joe Pardini, pioneer resident of the area.

Pardini reported that the last year that the river was this bad was in 1934. He said he thought it was higher then than it is now.

One of the first camps evacuated was the trailer site opposite the Dutch Mill at 3 a.m. this morning, owners Wallace and Elmore were the only persons in the camp. They were busy hooking up their trailer.

They reported that they received word about 10 p.m. that the Yakima was flooding.

"Everybody went," Wallace said. "The place just emptied. They all headed for North Richland. I'd say there were 36 trailer loads of them."

Wallace reported he would not attempt to move all of the cabins remaining on the site. He pointed out that a bulldozer had erected a two-foot dike around the property and said the property was high enough so that he didn't think there would be any immediate danger. At 10:30 a.m. today water had still not entered the area.

Another strenuous effort to save a causeway was being made by Wallace Bateman, owner of Bateman Island, lying directly across from Island View. Although much of the island was under water, it seemed likely the causeway would be saved. There are numerous homes on the island.

Avenue C was bustling with activity this morning as trailers and cars raced busily back and forth. The largest trailer camp, Campbell's Cabins, located right at the turn of the road, was quickly emptied and water had already started to seep into the camp at 2 a.m.

Standard Oil officials reported the company owned trailer camp directly behind their station at the Washington and Avenue C street intersection had been ordered evacuated at midnight. Sixty families lived on the site. Some said they would go to North Richland while most of them indicated they would go to the old federal camping site.

Order to evacuate the camps was first given by Deputy Sheriff Bill Foraker. Foraker reported Benton County Engineer Roy Nunn had visited Kennewick vicinity at 7 p.m. and reported the area should be evacuated.

The order was delayed however because telephone communications with Prosser were disrupted. A violent electrical storm which knocked a main power transformer out clothed the city in darkness for over an hour.

The storm was accompanied by a blinding sand storm which hit Richland and Kennewick at 8 p.m. virtually stalling hundreds of Richland bound cars.

A power transmitter at Pasco also was put out of commission but service was restored a short time later.

Nor was Pasco completely ignored. The Connell trailer camp was completely flooded and trailers had moved onto a road above the camp.

Warning of the flood was broadcast by radio station KPKW. The station loaned a sound truck and an announcer which toured the area broadcasting the warning.

Former Kennewick Police chief Mitchell Kershaw said the Clover Island causeway was erected by the city in 1940 at a cost of $7000. He added the '46 flood ate away 11 feet a day of the island and reported this flood is far in excess of that.

The debris-laden Columbia is now within ten feet of the railroad ties of the railroad bridge over the river. They are about 220 feet below the highway bridge.

Burns Brown, general manager of the Kennewick Valley Telephone and Telegraph company disclosed that four pair of the toll cables between Pasco and Kennewick had been damaged by the flood. He said Pacific Telephone and Telegraph company cable engineers are attempting to raise it and dry the cable out with gas. The cable was installed last fall.

Cydell reported that although many Hanford workers were routed by the flood there was no noticeable increase in absentee figures today.

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