Gruesome as the losses were, western Oregon actually suffered rather less than most places of similar population density. The area between the Cascades and the Pacific and the Columbia and the mountains south of Ashland went from approximately 2,000,000 people on March 17th 1998 to about 100,000 one year later. This was a reduction of over 95%, but it was much better than what most areas with comparable concentrations of large cities went through. Typically, such an area would have been a ‘death zone’ with no surviors at all except the more successful cannibal bands… until those consumed themselves in the fashion of the Kilkenny cats.
Part of the answer was, paradoxically, the rapid outbreak of epidemic disease. Much of the population of Portland, the largest city, was forced out in the immediate aftermath of the Change (seeThe Portland Protective Association below) and congregated in large refugee camps around the State capital, Salem. The State government then attempted to feed the refugees by requisitioning from the rural areas around about. This was an impossible solution, albeit to a problem that had no real answer, but it did delay and limit the uncontrollable surge of starving urbanites into the countryside which ate similar areas bare elsewhere. Many stayed in the camps, because someone was visibly trying to do something, and the government, before the final collapse, tried to control movement outward to make requisitioning possible by preserving order in the countryside.
More importantly, the refugee camps, with their poor-to-nonexistant sanitation and slow starvation, proved to be ideal incubators for plagues. Bubonic plague (the Black Death which killed half of Europe in the 14th century) was the worst; it is endemic in western ground squirrels, and easily jumps to humans. Once established, the disease quickly assumed the utterly deadly and highly contagious pneumonic form, which spreads directly from person to person and has very few survivors—none without careful nursing or antibiotics. Cholera and other forms of water-born dysentery, and typhus and typhoid fever joined in the devil’s chorus. By the time the camps collapsed completely, so many had died that the remainder were not enough to totally swamp the Willamette country, the more so as other concentrations suffered similar outbreaks.
Hence rather than absolute desolation, the Willamette valley and adjacent areas showed a mixed pattern—emptiness down the main I-5 corridor from Portland south, combined with scattered pockets of survival on either flank.
1: The Portland Protective Association:
Portland was almost unique in the immediate post-Change period, in that the city survived as a center of organized human life.
This was largely due…
—sorry, had to cut this; it gives away too much.