New OC History Book Gets Great Flood of 1938 Death Toll Wrong Twice, But That's Okay

Chris Epting writes a cool little column called "O.C. Answer Man" for Orange Coast (note to editor Marty Smith—give him more room! And, while you're at it, tell your Los Angeles colleague to give his history buff more room as well!), where he takes people's questions about the county's past. He's also an author, with some O.C. titles under his notch. I received an advanced copy of Epting's latest,Vanishing Orange County, part of Arcadia Publishing's history-as-scrapbook series of America. It's an enjoyable, straightforward overview of long-gone or endangered Orange County buildings, events or businesses, from Lion Country Safari or the Boy Scout Jamboree that gave the road its name, with gorgeous pictures and small-but-informative capsules. Good time had by all.

There's only one real issue with Epting's book, and it comes up twice. He includes a lot of pictures of the devastation wrought by the Great Flood of 1938, Orange County's worst natural disaster (at least until Dana Rohrabacher began stomping on our fair terrain), and lists two separate casualty totals: 19 and "more than 50 people... including 43 victims at a Mexican settlement in Atwood."

Problem is, both of those figures are wrong. But the bigger problem is, no one will ever no what the exact figure is.

As I wrote in my own history of the Great Flood of '38 a couple of years ago:

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Historians have long argued about the total number of dead in the 1938 flood. Initial newspaper reports stated that 58 had perished. But some of the dead and missing turned out to be alive. Both the Santa Ana Register and Anaheim Bulletin had reduced the total to 21 by the time searchers found the last victim, Ydilfonso Agúndez, a month after the March 3 flood. A 1942 United States Department of the Interior study bumped the number up to 34.

No one will ever know the truth: Placentia resident Joe Aguirre remembers that many single male Mexican immigrants lived alongside the Santa Ana River banks, "and they just disappeared. No one ever asked for them."

C'est la histoire. To get your history salivary glands working, here are some images Epting put together for a YouTube video—good, save for the corny music:

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