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June 14: A deadly day in Oregon weather history

The June 14, 1903, flood in Heppner ranks as Oregon's deadliest natural disaster of the 20th century, according to the National Weather Service in Portland. (Photo courtesy NWS Portland)

HEPPNER, Ore. - More than a century ago, a flash flood swept a wall of water 40-feet high through the town of Heppner, claiming the lives of 247 people.

It's one of 3 deadly weather events that took place on this day in the late 19th and early 20th century, according to National Weather Service records.

A tornado on June 14, 1885, killed 3 people in Long Creek, Oregon.

Three years later, a twister touched down June 14 in Lexington, Oregon, claiming the lives of 6 people.

But the June 14, 1903, flood in Heppner ranks as Oregon's deadliest natural disaster of the 20th century, according to the National Weather Service in Portland.

"A strong thunderstorm, accompanied by extremely heavy rain and hail, moved near Heppner, Oregon," according to the National Weather Service. "The storm covered a very small area, probably no more than 50 square miles. Heavy rain fell in a very short time, creating severe flash flooding along Willow Creek, normally a peaceful stream flowing through the town center. The entire town was swept away in just a few short minutes, drowning nearly 247 people. Eyewitnesses say thunderstorm rains arrived as a 40-foot wall of water and the ensuing flood raged through town for over an hour. In all, one-third of the towns' structures were wiped out."

From the first rain drops until the flood's crest, only 15 minutes passed, according to the weather service.

Bodies were washed 40 miles downstream to the Columbia River.

"There are no rainfall records available for this storm," the weather service notes, "because the weather observing station was completely destroyed, drowning the observer and his entire family."

It could have been worse.

"A similar fate would have been in store for the citizens of Ione, just 20 miles downstream," according to the weather service. "However, telephoned warnings prompted an immediate evacuation and residents escaped to high ground. At least 150 homes were destroyed at Ione."

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