On this day in 1977, the Toccoa Falls Dam in Georgia gives way and 39 people die in the resulting flood.
Ninety miles north of Atlanta, the Toccoa (Cherokee for “beautiful”) Falls Dam was constructed of earth across a canyon in 1887, creating a 55-acre lake 180 feet above the Toccoa Creek. In 1911, R.A. Forrest established the Christian and Missionary Alliance College along the creek below the dam. According to legend, he bought the land for the campus from a banker with the only $10 dollars he had to his name, offering God’s word that he would pay the remaining $24,990 of the purchase price later.
Sixty-six years later on November 5, a volunteer fireman inspected the dam and found everything in order. However, just hours afterward, in the early morning of November 6, the dam suddenly gave way. Water thundered down the canyon and creek, approaching speeds of 120 miles per hour.
Although there was a tremendous roar when the dam broke, the residents of the college had no time to evacuate. Within minutes, the entire community was slammed by a wave of water. One woman managed to hang onto a roof torn from a building and ride the wave of water for thousands of feet. Her three daughters, however, were not so fortunate: They were among the 39 people who lost their lives in the flood.
First lady Rosalynn Carter visited the college to offer her support in the wake of the tragedy. She later wrote, “Instead, I was enveloped by hope and courage and love.”