Ten catastrophic dam failures we can never forget

Ten catastrophic dam failures we can never forget

Humans have created unimaginable structures ever since but there is always room for mistakes. There have been incidents when the architects and engineers were wrong with their designs causing structural failures and ultimately being the reason behind many disasters. While natural events are inevitable but man-made mistakes have costed a lot too.

We have compiled a list of ten horrible dam failures in history that will run a chill down your spine.

  1. 1975- Banqiao reservoir dam failure

Banqiao dam failure was the worst ever in history. The dam was located on the Ru River in China’s Zhumadian city. It was constructed with the purpose of controlling floods and generating hydroelectricity and had a capacity of 492 million cubic meters. There were signs of constructional errors and cracks initially but it was repaired to be unbreakable. Typhoon Nina, on august 1974, resulted in excess rainfall in the area and finally on August 8, the dam failure occurred giving way to huge volumes of water that flooded the nearby areas. About 171,000 people lost their lives and millions were displaced.

2. 1889- South fork dam failure

South Fork dam was located some miles east of Johnstown, Pennsylvania. It was constructed in the year 1852 and had a height of 72 feet with 10 feet wide crest and 220 feet wide base. The dam first collapsed in 1862 due to poor maintenance and was sold to Benjamin Ruff who created a fishing and hunting club out of it. May 31, 1889, saw a catastrophic event when the dam overtopped because of a fierce storm resulting in a flood wave. About 20 million tons of water and debris washed out the region and over 2209 casualties were recorded. The event came to be known as the Johnstown Flood.

3. 1963- Vajont dam failure

Image: All that’s interesting

The dam was built during the years 1957 and 1960, and its filling only began in 1960. It was a concrete arch dam with a height of 262 meters and a holding capacity of a whopping 150,000,000 cubic meter. The dam was built over geologically unstable slopes but soil saturation from filling of the dam made it worse. On 9 October 1963, a landslide occurred that resulted in a wave of water overtopping the dam. About 2000 fatalities were reported with a massive loss to property. It is believed the presence of the dam resulted in the landslide.

4. 1967- Sempor dam failure

Image: East Idaho News

Situated on the Sempor river in the Gombong district of Indonesia, the embankment dam, Sempor was constructed in 1967. It was the same year when the dam met the fateful disaster killing many people. Sempor dam served as a source of irrigation and tourist attraction as well. On November 29, 1967, rainfall resulting in floods in the area made the dam dysfunctional causing a miserable failure. Heavy loss to property and many casualties were recorded and the event made a place in the list of the worst dam failures of history. Few years after the disaster, the dam was rebuilt and was functional by the year 1980.

5. 1961- Kurenivka dam failure

Image:Global Domain News

Heavy rains during March, 1961 brought about a devastating event near the capital city of Kiev in Ukraine. The Kurenivka dam secured the loam pulp dump of a brick factory and the massive volumes of it made the dam to fail. About 146 fatalities were reported officially but after the event analyses it was believed that over 1,500 lives were lost. The engineers and managers were blamed for the dam failure due to the faulty design and structural errors.

6. 1961 panshet dam failure

Image:DivyaMarati News

Panshet dam is located on the Ambi river about 31 miles to the southwest of Pune city in India and was built for the purpose of irrigation and water supply. Failure of this earthern dam was a result of sheer negligence and wrong estimations. There was no reinforced cement concrete (RCC) used, instead plain unenforced concrete blocks were used because of the shortage of steel. On 12 July, 1961, Pune saw one of the worst disasters in its history. The dam wall burst causing massive floods in city killing over 1000 people.

7. 1943- Möhne reservoir failure


The Möhne reservoir is located in the north Rhine Westphalia, Germany and was created by damming the rivers Heve and Möhne. Möhne dam failure was a result of the bombings during the second world war when on May 16, 1943, RAF Lancaster bombers targeted the dam. The protective nets could not hold back the bombs that created a humongous hole in it allowing the water to ferociously flow out and flood the nearby areas. 1579 people were recorded dead of whom about 1026 were forced labors who were made to work in Germany. They lived in camps close to the Möhne dam.

8. 1979- Machchhu dam failure

Image: Damfailures.org

Machchhu Dam was built in 1959 on the river Machchhu in the Rajkot district of Gujarat, India. It was built with the motive to serve for irrigation purposes with a catchment area of 730 km2 . Heavy rainfall caused the earthern walls to disintegrate resulting into a collapse. On august 11, 1979, the dam failed, flooding the nearby areas. About 25000 people were reported dead and huge losses to property were recorded.

9. Kaloko dam failure us

The devastating failure of the Kaloko Dam took place on March 14th, 2006. More than three hundred million gallons of water flowing furiously wiped out almost everything on its way sweeping away seven people as well. The dam failure was a result of unusually heavy rainfalls. The water flooded downhill through a ravine east of the town of Kilauea, Hawaii, being 20-70 feet high. Investigations brought out the possible reasons of failure as inadequate inspection of the dam and low maintenance.

10. 1928- St Francis dam California

The St. Francis dam in California was built with a motive to provide storage reservoir for the Los Angeles Aqueduct system and was constructed between the years 1924 and 1926. It was a curved concrete gravity dam located about 65 km northwest of Los Angeles. William Mulholland, who lacked the experience in concrete dam suggested a concrete gravity dam to be built for the canyon terrain. Little heed to the site inspections, poor judgements and raising the height of the dam keeping the base width unchanged, contributed majorly to the dam failure. March 12-13, 1928, saw the unfortunate which resulted in the deaths of over 400 civilians.

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