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Remembering a deadly night

March 12, 2008 |  4:31 pm

St_francis_dam_before_collapse_2It's been 80 years since the catastrophic collapse of the St. Francis Dam in rural L.A. County. On March 12, 1928, just moments before midnight, 12 billion gallons of water - a year's supply for Los Angeles in those days - crashed down San Francisquito Canyon.

A thundering wall of water carried mud, boulders, trees and debris through the canyon, destroyed over a 1,000 homes, killed up to 600 people, took out five bridges, and flowed overland until it reached the sea.

St_francis_dam_all_thats_left The dam, located about five miles northeast of what is now Santa Clarita, was a concrete gravity-arch structure built to create a reservoir for the Los Angeles Aqueduct. It took two years to build. The collapse took mere hours.

News  of the event spread throughout the world. Of the state's disasters, only the San Francsico Earthquake of 1906 took more lives. Though the calamity happened eight decades ago, visitors still make the trek to the site of the collapse, and scholars and engineers continue to sift through the lessons of the worst civil engineering failure of the 20th century.

The hometown papers, the Star and the Signal, commemorate the event.

More photos on the next page.

--Veronique de Turenne


A tent city to house survivors sprang up after the dam collapse.


Red Cross workers pitched in to help survivors.

Photos - Los Angeles Times archive