On this day in 1969, a spate of heavy rain begins in Southern California that results in a tragic series of landslides and floods that kills nearly 100 people. This was the worst weather-related disaster in California in the 20th century.
Although January typically features relatively high precipitation in Southern California, the first month of 1969 saw an extraordinary amount of rain throughout the region. Mt. Baldy, east of Los Angeles, received more than 50 inches in the nine-day period beginning January 18. By January 26, the Federal Emergency Management Association (FEMA) had declared it a federal disaster area.
The worst part of the remarkable rainfall was that it caused a series of landslides in the hills of Southern California. In Glendora, 1 million cubic meters of rock and mud slid down a hillside, destroying 200 homes and killing dozens of people. Although there was only one fatality, the plight of Mandeville Canyon, north of Sunset Boulevard in L.A.’s Brentwood section, during the disaster was heavily publicized due to the wealth and fame of its residents.
Mandeville Canyon Road became a flowing river and was impassable for a week. Waves of water three feet high ran through homes, sweeping residents’ possessions, including furniture and pianos, away. Film director Robert Altman was trapped in his home for more than a day. Many others had to be evacuated. Michael Riordan, the brother of future Los Angeles Mayor Richard Riordan, was the only person to die in the area. He was killed in his bedroom, as firefighters tried to rescue him. Eventually, the National Guard was brought in assist in the relief efforts.
Overall, 91 people died in the flooding and mudslides. It was the worst storm to hit Southern California since 1938. In February, yet another big storm hit killed 18 people over several days. From 1980 to 2005, approximately 100 people died from floods and landslides in Southern California.