After months of heavy rain and snow and unseasonably warm weather that melted much of that snow the Willamette and Columbia, and numerous other Northwest rivers, flooded in February of 1996. In Portland the Willamette flood waters crested at around 30 feet on February 9, 1996.
To put this flood into perspective for those who weren’t here, think about that big seawall at Waterfront Park. It’s about 30 feet high. The city constructed additional sandbag barriers – a.k.a. Vera’s Wall – around the railings at the top of the seawall as a last ditch effort to prevent flooding in downtown Portland. Imagine violently eddying, debris-filled chocolate milk colored water surging up to the brim, basically on the same level as the sidewalk. The seawall disappeared . . . but then the waters subsided.
Portland’s downtown was lucky. Oregon City and Tillamook’s downtown areas were submerged for days, and flooding occurred throughout the entire Pacific Northwest. In Oregon eight deaths were attributed to the flood. Over half a billion dollars in property damage was sustained throughout the Pacific Northwest, and 30,000 residents had to flee their homes.