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"On This Day" December 02,1959 - Malpasset Dam Disaster
The Malpasset Dam overlooks the town of Fréjus, a beautiful French town founded by Julius Caesar in 49 AD. The site for the dam was chosen because engineers declared that the rock foundation was solid and watertight. On December 2, 1959, however, heavy rainfalls began to cause seepage about nine hundred feet downstream. Although some people worried that the seepage indicated a problem, it was ignored as a consequence of the heavy rains. On the night of December 2nd, the dam burst with explosive force, and a wall of water swept through the Reyran Valley and into Fréjus. 421 people died in the flood and priceless antiquities were washed away. After the flood, it was revealed that the rock base was much weaker than the engineers had thought. Charges of criminal negligence dogged many of the engineers for years. The Malpasset failure changed the way dams were built, especially in the United States.