Year
1982

Landslides kill 33 in California

On this day in 1982, a series of landslides near San Francisco, California, kills up to 33 people and closes the Golden Gate Bridge. In all, an amazing 18,000 different landslides took place in the San Francisco Bay Area following a very heavy rain storm.

Two fast-moving fronts carrying extremely heavy rain passed through San Francisco in a 36-hour period beginning on January 4, during which the area received an amount of rain equal to half its average annual precipitation. Some areas received as much as 24 inches of rain on January 4 and 5. On January 5, the rain began to trigger thousands of separate landslides in the Bay Area hills.

Almost without exception, the slides caught their victims completely unaware. San Francisco State University professor Kai-yu Hsu was in the basement of his home in Tiburon. Suddenly, there was a deafening roar and, within seconds, the home was gone–it crashed into a park at the bottom of a hill. His son, Roland, witnessed the tragedy while standing just outside the home.

In all, about 7,800 homes and businesses were seriously damaged by slides and falling trees. Roads became impassable when mud and large boulders crashed down onto them. The Golden Gate Bridge even had to close due to a landslide. When seven homes in Love Creek collapsed on a hillside, 10 people died instantly. It is believed that between 22 and 33 people were killed in total. Damages exceeded $100 million, and the region was declared a federal disaster area. It was the Bay Area’s worst natural disaster since a 1906 earthquake.

Using aerial surveillance in the days following the storm, officials determined that about 18,000 separate slides occurred. In most areas, homes have since been rebuilt on the original lots, using sub-surface pipes and retaining walls to help prevent a repeat disaster.

ALSO ON THIS DAY

Prague Spring begins in Czechoslovakia

Antonin Novotny, the Stalinist ruler of Czechoslovakia, is succeeded as first secretary by Alexander Dubcek, a Slovak who supports liberal reforms. In the first few months of his rule, Dubcek introduced a series of far-reaching political and economic reforms, including increased ...read more

Pol Pot renames Cambodia

On this day in 1976, Khmer Rouge leader Pol Pot announces a new constitution changing the name of Cambodia to Kampuchea and legalizing its Communist government. During the next three years his brutal regime sent the nation back to the Middle Ages and was responsible for the ...read more

Kamikaze pilots get first order

On this day in 1945, Japanese pilots received the first order to become kamikaze, meaning “divine wind” in Japanese. The suicidal blitz of the kamikazes revealed Japan’s desperation in the final months of World War II. Most of Japan’s top pilots were dead, but youngsters needed ...read more

First divorce in the colonies

In the first record of a legal divorce in the American colonies, Anne Clarke of the Massachusetts Bay Colony is granted a divorce from her absent and adulterous husband, Denis Clarke, by the Quarter Court of Boston, Massachusetts. In a signed and sealed affidavit presented to ...read more

Dreyfus Affair in France

French officer Alfred Dreyfus, condemned for passing military secrets to the Germans, is stripped of his rank in a humiliating public ceremony in the courtyard of Paris’ Ecole Militaire. The Jewish artillery captain, convicted on flimsy evidence in a highly irregular trial, began ...read more

Golden Gate Bridge is born

On January 5, 1933, construction begins on the Golden Gate Bridge, as workers began excavating 3.25 million cubic feet of dirt for the structure’s huge anchorages. Following the Gold Rush boom that began in 1849, speculators realized the land north of San Francisco Bay would ...read more

New York Yankees announce purchase of Babe Ruth

On this day in 1920, the New York Yankees major league baseball club announces its purchase of the heavy-hitting outfielder George Herman “Babe” Ruth from the Boston Red Sox for the sum of $125,000. In all, Ruth had played six seasons with the Red Sox, leading them to three World ...read more

Truman delivers his Fair Deal speech

On this day in 1949, President Harry S. Truman announces, in his State of the Union address, that every American has a right to expect from our government a fair deal. In a reference to Franklin Roosevelt’s New Deal policies, Truman announced his plans for domestic policy reforms ...read more

Nixon launches the space shuttle program

Also on this day in presidential history, Richard Nixon signs a bill authorizing $5.5 million in funding to develop a space shuttle. The space shuttle represented a giant leap forward in the technology of space travel. Designed to function more like a cost-efficient “reusable” ...read more