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Great Flood of '96 for Southern Oregon Coast Hit Coos Bay, Bandon in Nov

Published 02/08/23 at 7:19 AM
By Oregon Coast Beach Connection staff

Bills Creek Road washed out, leaving neighbors disconnected

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(Coos Bay, Oregon) - A mere 10 months after Oregon was ravaged by the February 1996 flood, the infamous storm that sunk entire areas of Portland and Salem, the south Oregon coast got hit with its own mega-event. The November '96 flood wasn't quite as massive, but it affected a large chunk of coast, from Florence through a bit south of Bandon, not to mention all the way over to Roseburg and other southern Oregon areas. (Above: Bills Creek Road washed out, leaving neighbors disconnected. Courtesy Bandon Historical Museum )

Still, it was big enough that local newspapers called it “The Flood of '96,” and everyone knew that it didn't mean the one in Portland that got all the TV coverage.

Even up north, this rainstorm let out a tremendous gush. Rain records were set for November 19 for Portland, Salem, Eugene and Corvallis. Some flooding occurred up there as well, including some apartments that had been flooded in the February event.

Rivers swelled somewhat in Lincoln County on the central Oregon coast, but down south, from November 17 – 19, things went nuts, especially on Monday, November 18.

That Monday, a slightly bigger storm hit the southern Oregon coast than the day before, one where more than six inches of rain fell, especially in Lane, Coos and Douglas County. 80 mph gusts created various kinds of issues. Major flooding took out chunks of Coos Bay, North Bend and Bandon. Even Florence was affected.

In fact, there, 70 mph winds knocked out power in Florence by snapping over trees that in turn clipped power lines, with the bulk of the town losing power at 6:20 a.m. Power was also out in Dunes City and Elkton. Traffic on Highway 126 was blocked by a landslide for a about one day, and other landslides plagued the Oregon coast in other areas.

In Reedsport, the US Coast Guard and sheriffs out of Lane and Douglas County were still looking for missing residents along Highway 28 on Tuesday, as well as a pair reported missing at Loon Lake. One deputy was trapped between landslides on that highway for a time.

Even through traffic had opened up on part of Highway 101 near Reedsport, authorities still asked people to stay inside because of heavy wind and rain that morning.

Farther south, however, is where it all got really hairy. By Tuesday night, authorities were looking at more winds and rain, and now soaked and weakened hillsides posed threats all over. State Police worried about elk hunters in south Oregon coast forests as they weren't sure how many there were out there. Up the Coquille River, a massive landslide took out the road and power poles near Powers, and EMT's soon found themselves searching for a group of panic-stricken teens stuck in a home behind one of the slide areas. They were found and uninjured.

Landslides shut down roads up the Coos River, down at Humbug Mountain, and in numerous other areas.


Coos Bay during King Tides, courtesy Robert More

In Coos County, winds did their worst, as did the flooding. The county declared a state of emergency late on the 18th, and even the National Guard was standing by. Cape Blanco saw winds over 80 mph, and some 6,000 people between Bandon and North Bend were without power.

Farms just east of Bandon turned into lakes of muddy water at times, Cape Arago Highway was closed at Sunset Beach because of high water, and the official report has the Coquille River 9 feet above flood stage at one point.

Mingus Park in Coos Bay was a small lake for a time.

In Bandon, the famed Bandon Cheese Factory (now the Face Rock Creamery) was closed as water started flooding in the back door from Ferry Creek. It had risen some 12 inches in a half hour. Employees inside rushed around to close doors, shore up certain areas and shut off electricity, as a lone customer stood outside nibbling on ice cream under the overhang.

Downtown Bandon itself flooded with more than two feet of water, and even the bridge became threatened at one point.

A post-event analysis done by the US Geological Survey in 2004 said this was a 50-year flood event.

SOURCES: Newspaper reports from November 19 - 28, including The World, Albany Democrat-Herald, Statesman Journal.

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Andre' GW Hagestedt is editor, owner and primary photographer / videographer of Oregon Coast Beach Connection, an online publication that sees over 1 million pageviews per month. He is also author of several books about the coast.

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