THE St. FRANCIS
DAM FAILURE of 1928
The St. Francis dam failure is considered one of the worst civil engineering catastrophes in American history.
Built between 1924 and 1926, St. Francis Dam was a curved concrete gravity dam that was meant to help meet Los Angeles’ growing need for water regulation and storage. It was located about 30 miles (50 km) northwest of downtown Los Angeles. Several cracks and leaks were observed in the dam and its abutments but they were dismissed as normal by the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power and the general manager and chief engineer of the dam, William Mulholland.
On March 7, 1928, the reservoir was filled to capacity for the first time. After an inspection, Mulholland proclaimed it safe. Five days later, on March 12, the dam catastrophically failed. The resulting flood killed hundreds and swept away thousands of acres of fertile land. The disaster was largely blamed on poor design and the use of poor quality concrete, which allowed water to undermine the dam's foundations. It goes without saying that it also marked the end of Mulholland’s career.
Clancy's comment: A sad disaster for hundreds who probably didn't see it coming.