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Vanport events bring flood of memories

1948 disaster that put city under water is focus of Portland State events

Portland's equivalent of the lost city of Atlantis is about to get its due.

Vanport, a city sandwiched between Vancouver, Wash., and North Portland, washed away on May 30, 1948. A Columbia River dike gave way, and the resulting flood laid waste to the largest U.S. public housing project of the 1940s.

'I am a Vanport survivor,' says Della Frazier, a volunteer for Portland State University's upcoming Vanport commemoration. 'I was a baby, but there are lots of Vanport stories in my family. My sister talks about how all she could think to do was grab her pillow and her pennies when the flood came. My uncle brought us up on a hill, and we watched buses try to leave.'

Fifteen people died, and thousands ÑÊmany of them blacks who had migrated to Vanport to work in shipyards ÑÊwere forced to relocate.

Today, Portland International Raceway stands near the Vanport site.

Though there are no physical remnants of the city itself, the legacy of Vanport lives on in Portland State University, formerly known as Vanport College. This week, PSU celebrates the history of the city with three days of storytelling, gospel singing, marching bands and a football game.

The commemoration begins when former Vanport residents, the Vancouver Street Baptist Church Choir, state Sen. Margaret Carter and others gather at PSU's Lincoln Performance Hall to reminisce about Vanport through words and music.

Next is a pep rally at Pioneer Courthouse Square, complete with a marching band. Finally, the Portland State Vikings match up Saturday, Sept. 14, at PGE Park against the North Carolina A&T Aggies in a 'Vanport Invitational' game.

Frazier hopes that the Vanport celebration helps prevent calamities such as the 1948 flood.

'They say you don't know where you're going until you know where you've been,' she says. 'I'm not sure how the flood started. But they're building out there again, and I hope they're taking precautions.'

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