Making Sense of Disaster:The St. Francis Dam

2013 marks the 100th anniversary of the L.A. Aqueduct, that intricate system of canals and tunnels and pipelines that conveys water collected from the Sierra Nevada Mountains and valleys of Northern and Central California to Southern California.   At the dedication of the aqueduct on November 5, 1913, civil engineer William Mulholland told the thousands of people attending the ceremony that they were there to dedicate the aqueduct to “you and your children and your children’s children for all time.” The afternoon was a highlight of Mulholland’s career. But fifteen years later, at two and a half minutes before midnight on March 12, 1928, Mulholland’s career came to a disastrous end when the St. Francis Dam, built under his direction, failed catastrophically with a resulting flood that killed up to 600 people.

On Tuesday, July 23rd, ALOUD will host a discussion—moderated by Patt Morrison, about the dam disaster. Participating in the discussion, along with historians Donald Jackson and Bill Deverell, is celebrated author Rebecca Solnit, known for her published works on such topics as walking, modernity, the Cold War, human rights campaigns, Yosemite, landscape degradation, and disaster. We asked Deverell what perspective Solnit might bring to the conversation. He answered: “Her insights into the ways in which natural and other disasters construct human community from heroic altruism are drawn from case study examinations of such events as the 1906 San Francisco earthquake and fire and the Katrina hurricane disaster of the summer of 2005.  In our discussion of the St. Francis Dam disaster, an event which caused the deaths of untold hundreds of people in the late 1920s, we might expect Solnit to help us ponder how human and community good might yet come out of – if not the dam disaster itself – our memories and histories of it.”

Learn more about the panelists and join the conversation at ALOUD on July 23rd.

This program is co-presented with the Huntington-USC Institute on California and the West

Photos: courtesy of the Los Angeles Public Library Photo collection

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