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History

That Time a Baldwin Hills Dam Broke and Flooded The Hell Out of Los Angeles

December 14, 2014 by Brian Champlin

So what’s the craziest disaster in Los Angeles that you may not ever have heard of?

Well, how about the Baldwin Hills flood that took place exactly 51 years ago, today, when a crack in a 19 acre reservoir ruptured and washed over the land below with some 292 million gallons of water.

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L.A. Times staff reporter Bob Pool recalled the incident for a 40th anniversary piece written in 2003:

“The Baldwin Hills Dam collapsed with the fury of a thousand cloudbursts, sending a 50-foot wall of water down Cloverdale Avenue and slamming into homes and cars on Dec. 14, 1963…  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.”

Ultimately 5 people were killed, 65 hillside houses were ripped apart, and over 200 homes and apartments were damaged by the flood.

And just to drive the whole “fury of a thousand cloudbursts” point home, check this aerial footage that captured the aftermath of the flooding (interesting footnote that this telecast is considered the modern precursor to the way local news networks cover stories from aerial perspectives via helicopters).

Pretty gnarly.

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