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Baldwin Hills dam collapse: Remembering the deadly disaster

Fifty years ago today, disaster struck the Baldwin Hills section of Los Angeles.

A dam broke, sending a 50-foot wall of water down Cloverdale Avenue and slamming into homes and cars on Dec. 14, 1963.

There will be a memorial ceremony in observance of the anniversary Saturday afternoon at Kenneth Hahn State Recreation Area, where the dam once stood. It will include a moment of silence at 3:38 p.m., when the dam broke. Survivors and first-responders will be on hand.

The Times Bob Pool recounted what happened:

Five people were killed. Sixty-five hillside houses were ripped apart, and 210 homes and apartments were damaged. The flood swept northward in a V-shaped path roughly bounded by La Brea Avenue and Jefferson and La Cienega boulevards.

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A pencil-thin crack that developed in the earthen dam that had held back a 19-acre reservoir built to supply drinking water for West Los Angeles residents ruptured into a 75-foot gash, allowing 292 million gallons to surge out.

It took 77 minutes for the lake to empty. But it took a generation for the neighborhood below to recover. And two decades passed before the Baldwin Hills ridge top was reborn.

The cascade caused an unexpected ripple effect that is still being felt in Los Angeles and beyond.

It foreshadowed the end of urban-area earthen dams as a major element of the Department of Water and Power’s water-storage system. And it prompted a tightening of Division of Safety of Dams control over reservoirs throughout the state.

The live telecast of the collapse from a KTLA-TV helicopter is considered the precursor to airborne news coverage that is now routine everywhere.

The Times’ Framework blog has collected dramatic photos from the dam break.

Where you when the dam collapsed? Share your stories below:

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