80 years ago, a deadly disaster


It’s been 80 years since the catastrophic collapse of St. Francis Dam.

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 more than 1,000 homes, killed up to 600 people, took out five bridges and flowed overland until it reached the sea.


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

Though the disaster 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 dam’s failure.

-- Veronique de Turenne

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