“People Downstream, Evacuate Quickly! Hurry! Hurry!”

This week marks the 40 year anniversary of the Teton Dam Disaster.  To commemorate the flood, Special Collections is sponsoring two open houses on Thursday, June 2, from 2-4 and 6-8 pm.  Videos of the flood as well as histories of the event will be shown and a special guest speaker will discuss the experiences of those who lived through the event as recorded in oral histories.  This week, a blog post will be posted every day highlighting the oral history of one survivor of the flood.

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                 Image from BYUI collection

40 years ago today at 11:57 AM, the Teton Dam burst.

The Teton Dam, an earthen dam located about 15 miles northeast of Rexburg, suffered a catastrophic failure that Saturday morning as the reservoir behind it was filling for the first time. The 240,000 acre-feet of flood waters drained within 6 hours, nearly wiping out several communities downstream and changing the entire landscape before being contained 36 hours later in the American Falls reservoir, 150 miles away.

Here are a few key facts:

  • The dam was built 1972-1975 by the Bureau of Reclamation.
  • It was 305 feet high, 0.6 miles long.
  • It cost $100 million to build.
  • The reservoir was filled to 30.3 feet below the crest when the dam breeched, releasing more than 2 million cubic feet of water per second.
  • The deaths of at least 11 people have been attributed to the failure of the dam.
  • Nearly 4,000 homes were damaged or destroyed; 350 businesses were lost.
  • Some 16,000 cattle were drowned in the floodwaters.
  • The topsoil was stripped from tens of thousands of acres of farmland.
  • The government paid 7,563 claims for a total of $322 million, although total damage estimates have ranged up to $2 billion.
  • Government committees analyzing the dam afterwards determined the cause of failure to be a combination of geological factors and poor design decisions.

 

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