The St. Francis Dam was a concrete-arch dam, designed to create a reservoir as part of the Los Angeles Aqueduct. St. Francis DamThe dam was located 40 miles (64 km) northwest of Los Angeles, Califotnia, near the city of Santa Clarita. The dam was built between 1924 and 1926 under the supervision of William Mulholland, chief engineer and general manager of the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power (then called the Bureau of Water Works and Supply).

Three minutes before midnight on March 12, 1928, the dam catastrophically failed, after being inspected by Mulholland himself and sent 12.5 billion US gallons (47,000,000 m3) flooding into the Santa Clarita Valley, north of Los Angeles.  A 10-story wall of water rolled down the Santa Clara riverbed at 18 mph (29 km/h) towards the sea at Ventura, and the next morning revealed unbelievable catastrophe.  The town of Santa Paula lay buried under 20-feet (6 m) of mud and debris, other parts of Ventura County were covered up to 70-feet (21 m).  

Disaster recovery crews worked for days, and the final death count has been estimated at 450, including 42 school children. Mulholland resigned, took full responsibility for the worst US civil engineering disaster of the 20th century, and during the subsequent investigation said, "the only people I envy in this thing are the dead." Though the inquest placed responsibility for the disaster on improper engineering, design, and governmental inspection, it also recommended that Mulholland not be held responsible because he had no way of knowing that the dam's site contained unstable rock formations (which were ultimately determined to be the cause of failure).

Mulholland died 7 years later, in 1935, living these years in full seclusion.  He was buried at Forest Lawn Memorial Park Cemetery.


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