Year
1959

Dam collapses in France, killing 412

The Malpasset Dam in France collapses on this day in 1959 and the resulting flood kills more than 400 people. The city of Frejus, dating back to Caesar’s time, was devastated by the massive flood.

Frejus was built by Roman Emperor Caesar as a port city on the French Riviera. Over the years, the city center moved a few miles inland near the Reyran River. The river ran through a narrow gorge miles from the city and, in the 1950s, it was decided to build a dam to control the river’s flow.

In late November 1959, a week-long rain storm stalled over the French Riviera. It was the middle of the night on December 2 when the rock beneath the Malpasset Dam gave way under the weight and pressure of the water. The entire dam collapsed and the water rushed down the gorge with tremendous power. Miles away, windows and doors were blown out of homes by the water. Some victims were buried in mud, while others are believed to have been swept out to sea.

Rescue and relief efforts were extremely difficult as all access roads were destroyed. Even when help arrived, the mud was so thick that it took days of work to dig out the bodies. The best estimate is that approximately 412 people perished.

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