The Baldwin Hills, California Dam Disaster

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Disaster Research Center
Cn Saturday, December 14, 1963 at 3:30 P.M. a break in the Baldwin Hills Dam in Los Angeles sent a torrent of water onto the hillside and valley below, causing extensive destruction in an estimated one square mile residential and business area. The 292.4 million gallons of water that had been stored in the reservoir battered out the sides of houses and completely demolished many buildings; household items such as furniture and refrigerators were swept away and mud and debris were spread for miles. Many residents who either did not hear the warnings to evacuate or failed to heed them fled to their rooftops and other buildings and were later rescued by helicopters. Only five people were killed, but 27 other persons were injured enough to require hospitalization despite the extensive damage to both public and private property which ran to several million dollars. On Sunday, December 15 at 1l:30 A.M. a three man Disaster Research Center team arrived in Los Angeles. The primary purpose of the trip was to provide the team with field experience, and thus it represented for the most part a training exercise rather than a systematic study. Also important in the DRS's decision to send a field team to Los Angles was the was fact the disaster took place in a major metropolitan area. While most disaster studies have involved urban areas, very few have had metropolitan areas as their chief focus. Finally, the DRC felt that a study of the Baldwin Hills disaster afforded an opportunity to obtain greater insight into group and organizational problems and responses in a dam disaster occurring in a domestic setting. Some observations concerning this type of disaster in a foreign setting were obtained from a study by the DRC of the Vaiont Dam disaster which occured in northeastern Italy on October 9, 1963.
Baldwin Hills, California, Dam Disaster, Observations