June 14, 1903: According to the Oregon Encyclopedia the spring of 1903 was among the warmest and driest in memory for eastern Oregon. Sunday, June 14, was another hot day as the residents of Heppner, Oregon prepared for family suppers. By mid-afternoon, dark clouds were building in the hills southwest of town. At 4:30 pm, rain, and then hail, began to fall. The storm produced such a noise people could not hear the roar of the wall of water and debris that descended on the town. The Heppner Gazette reported: "Without a second's warning, a leaping, foaming wall of water, 40 feet in height, struck Heppner at about 5 o'clock Sunday afternoon, sweeping everything before it and leaving only death and destruction in its wake." The silt-laden floodwaters carried away everything in their path. The thick mass acted more like a battering ram than a flood of liquid. Homes floated off foundations and crashed into other structures, breaking apart and adding their debris to the flowing mass. By the time the flood waters receded, most of Heppner's residential area was destroyed and two-thirds of its homes were gone. The town's business district was wrecked with all but three of the town's businesses demolished. Newspaper reports gave disparate figures for the loss of life from the disaster. Early reports placed the death count as high as 500 persons. Eventually, 247 bodies were recovered, though many reports still list the casualty count at 251. Many surviving residents left Heppner following the disaster. The 1910 census showed a population of 880, down from the 1,400 living there in 1903. It was not until the 1990 that Heppner's population rebounded to pre-flood levels.
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