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Los Angeles, CA Dam Collapse, Dec 1963

Baldwin Hills Dam break aerial.jpg




A terrifying wall of water from a reservoir dam rushed through Baldwin Hills yesterday afternoon, leaving at least six -- possibly more -- dead, 60 homes destroyed and another 100 homes flooded. Except for a warning issued about two hours before the disaster, that the dam might break, the toll could have been many times greater.
Two bodies were found at the Fedco store, at the intersection of Rodeo Road and La Clenega Blvd., just below the dam.
Another body was taken from a car mired in a drainage ditch. It also was reported a man died of a heart attack while trying to drive in the flooded streets.
Last night the coroner was sent to Dorsey High School, an evacuation center, giving rise to the possibility of another death.
At 8 p.m. police said the death toll was six.
But the worst still may not be known for the main danger area was considered the Village Green section, south of La Brea. Village Green is a heavily populated apartment area and was hard hit by the raging waters.
There was no count on the injured but it is known that 1500 to 2000 people lived in the area hit by the flood.
The dam itself is located southwest of Rodeo Road and La Brea Ave.
Even with the advance warning, a virtual armada of helicopters was pressed into service to whisk residents off rooftops to safety.
And in the darkness last night fire trucks continued to ramble out of the disaster area loaded with refugees.
The wave of water lasted about 90 minutes, from 3:30 to 5 p.m. It left a four-square-mile area of wreckage and mud.
Trees and automobiles were swept from the path of the onrushing waves.
Fifteen minutes after the break the water in the dam had receded only 25 feet.
Homes in the path of the roaring water on Cloverdale St., worth $30,000 and up, were destroyed.
A gap of 75 feet opened in the dam 10 minutes after the initial break.
Witnesses said autos, trees, and signs were swept down La Cienega Blvd. The water was surging west and east on Rodeo Road.
Many people who did not heed emergency warnings were said to be trapped in automobiles that were swept blocks down the street by the angry flood.
Others, on foot, raced frantically to escape the deadly deluge.
At Rodeo Road, seven blocks from the base of the dam, water was already three to four feet deep at 3:50 p.m.
An insurance broker told The News there is no insurance coverage for homeowners in this type of disaster.
Residents in the area were warned not to touch their telephones because of the danger that power lines might fall and charge them with electricity.
All utilities were knocked out by the flood waters and residents were asked to use transistor radios to get emergency information.
Los Angeles Police Dept. immediately called in all available men and told those on duty to be prepared to work throughout the night. Officers called to duty were told to bring their boots.
There was some warning for residents in the area as police began evacuating people shortly after noon as fears mounted that the dam "might go at any time."
The dam, described as a compacted earth-filled variety, developed a leak and sent mud slides down Cloverdale Ave. and six inches of water down La Brea Ave.
Although a relief valve was opened, authorities began evacuating all residents as far north as Jefferson Blvd.
Authorities said the reservoir could cover a 900-acre area with one foot of water.
Water was reported in homes as far east as La Brea, as far west as La Clenega and as far north as Jefferson.
Police issued a bulletin at 4:15 p.m., asking all people trapped in the area to get to the tops of their homes so helicopters could pick them up.
Sparks from hot wires posed an additional threat of fire to disaster area.
Mayor Sam Yorty declared the Baldwin Hills a disaster area and ordered all persons to stay out and not interfere with rescue personnel.
He warned that such interference constitutes a criminal offense and will result in arrests.
The Mayor telegraphed President Lyndon B. Johnson and Gov. Edmund G. Brown, requesting all possible assistance from federal and state agencies.
On orders of the Mayor, Police Chief William H. Parker and City Civil Defense director Joseph M. Quinn immediately activated emergency communications and disaster facilities.
Quinn said the Red Cross was asked to establish centers for evacuees.
A police command post was set up at Padilla Place and Punta Alta Drive, and a Fire Dept. post at Sycamore Ave. and Sanchez Drive.
Mud was six inches deep at the intersection of Jefferson Blvd. and La Brea Ave.
A police command post, further into the disaster area on La Brea, was cut off and land units could not get to or from the post.
Water was so deep between Rodeo Road and Jefferson Blvd. that land rescue units could not get through.
A spokesman for the Water and Power Dept. said the leak was discovered around noon yesterday and that a request was madde of the Police Dept. to evacuate people living in the area below the dam in the area west of La Brea Ave. and south of Rodeo Road.
It would involve about 200 to 300 residents, the spokesman said.
The dam was built by Water and Power in 1950 to serve the southwest area of the city.
It holds 900 acre feet and is know as a compacted earth-filled dam.
Coast Guard, Fire and Police Depts. helicopters were rushed to the scene to aid in evacuation.
Before the dam burst police officers reported traffic congestion in the area was extreme as persons rushed to leave.
Ambulances were sent to rescue bedridden patients who phoned frantically for help.
Director Quinn reported at 3:50 p.m. that Rancho La Clenega Playground on Rodeo Road near La Brea Ave., was opened and that personnel from Baldwin Hills playground were sent there to assist in caring for refugees.
He also requested Red Cross to report to Dorsey High School, at Rodeo Road and Farmdale, and Los Angeles High School, at Olympic and Rimpau Blvds., which were opened for the same purpose.
Quinn said 26 fire companies were at the scene.
Fire commissioner Fred Kline was there.
He communicated with Quinn from his car phone, saying, "The flow of water is getting worse all the time."
The Board of Water and Power Commissioners met in emergency session last night and began to discuss all aspects, including cause and liability.
One of the possibilities discussed was that an earth tremor did the damage. But Caltech said there had been no earth tremor yesterday.
Helicopters, which had been used extensively in search and rescue operations, were grounded at 6 p.m. due to darkness. Police said the copters could not operate in the dark because of the large number of power lines in the area.
Marines and Red Cross nurses, were flown in late in the afternoon. The helicopters landed at Dorsey High School, one of five evacuation centers set up.
Police said the Marines were to be used primarily as an anti-looter detail.
Among the vehicles washed away in the flood waters were a two-wheel police motorcycle and 17 police cars. It was understood that no police officers were injured.
Three Sheriff's Dept. units from the Firestone station moved in to help maintain order in the disaster area.
One of the dead was tentatively identified as HATTIE SCHWARTZ, 65, of 5366 Village Green, Los Angeles.
President Johnson responded quickly to Mayor Yorty's call for federal aid. Last night Yorty received a call from Edward McDermott, director of the Office of Emergency Planning in Washington, who told Yorty that on the President's orders he had directed the chief of the U.S. Army Engineer Corps to Los Angeles to render all possible assistance.
Dr. John Celetano, in charge of the evacuation center at Dorsey High School, said early last night there had been "no serious injuries so far," but that more and more people were coming in, seeking friends and relatives.
The most serious injury, according to Celetano, was a gas station employe at the Fedco Discount House at La Clenega Blvd. and Rodeo Road who suffered a severely lacerated hand when he tried to avoid an onrushing automobile being carried along by the water.
The man was identified as LEONARD HIGGINS, 26, of 11250 Mississippi Ave., West Los Angeles.
Celetano also added that units from the Red Cross, Salvation Army, and the Boy Scouts were on hand offering their services, as well as students from Dorsey High School.

The Van Nuys News California 1963-12-15

article | by Dr. Radut