Santa Clarita Valley History In Pictures
> BRUNNER 1940 HISTORY INDEX   > ST. FRANCIS DAM DISASTER

Memories of St. Francis Dam Disaster.


(Impressions here given are those received on the north side of the Flood's path, near Castaic.)

Unforgettably imprinted are the remembrances of St. Francis Dam Disaster.

Awakening in the early hours to learn that utility lines had been washed away when there had been no rain, seemed an impossibility.

But the Dam had broken.

It was not long till the awful news reached one that friends and neighbors had met death in the night. The horror was general.

A pall of greyness hung over the early morning scene.

A relief camp was erected at the north edge where the flood's path crossed the Ridge Route.

There was the anguish of the sickening relatives: "So and so has been found. They are working on So and So's little boy over there, but his case proves hopeless."

The young man who, three weeks before, had stood on the Dam and said that if it ever broke he hoped to be a long way from it, was found on the first afternoon. (His home had been eight miles below the dam.)

The temporary morgue at Wayside Farm.

Word sent to Kentucky relatives of one lost. The requested search begun.

The repeated visits, partly by hazardous roads (where the highway no longer existed) to the morgues of Fillmore, Santa Paula, Moorpark, Ventura, Oxnard, San Fernando and Newhall, searching, for those in Kentucky who could not search, (the body was never definitively identified); for the Southern Pacific Company for whom one child was identified at Santa Paula and two at San Fernando; and for friends in general.

The endless odor of chemicals.

The lifting of numerous sheets from those on their planks. The strong and robust among men equally the victims of the water's fury.

The frequent difficulty in making identification.

The woman on her bier at Santa Paula, of whom a young lady repeatedly said that if it were not for the jewelry worn, she would say that person was her mother.

The flaxen-haired little boy who unidentified for two weeks on his plank at the Newhall morgue, and whom Mr. Wm. S. Hart received permission to bury, outfitting him in a little western suit; when a purse dug up in the river's bed yielded a picture and addresses which led to relatives in Merced, California.

The cable of inquiry from New Zealand for one of our neighbors.

The tireless efforts and large contributions of chemicals by Mr. Will Noble of the Noble Undertaking Establishment of San Fernando, to the Newhall-Saugus area.

The contribution received of a generous sum of money from Saugus Massachusetts to its namesake in California in its hour of distress.

These, beside the many tales heard, told and retold by others on all sides, are memories of the St. Francis Dam Disaster of March 13, 1928.

The Canyon (San Francisquito) opens into the Santa Clara Valley a short distance below Saugus.

... Masonic Clubhouse transformed into morgue ...

Telegraph Station was fitted up in the rear room of the Hardware Store, where the Associated Press, the Examiner and the Times each maintained men at the keys, who sent thousands of words as their reporters rushed in and out on their task of gathering the disconnected story.

At this writing, Wednesday morning [March 14, 1928], the scene in Newhall is pretty much the same as on Tuesday. Relatives of people, lost or dead, and known to be in the path of the wreck are swarming to see if they can find their loved ones. Rescue parties are going out, and the morgue is being prepared for a new lot of bodies that are reported on the way.

The erroneous report that Newhall and Saugus were under water was sent to every paper in the country, apparently, and caused a flood of telegrams to pour in from distant relatives, asking as to the safety of people here. Agent Coyle [Mr. Pat J. Coyle was a postal worker, probably postmaster, in Newhall] labored to get these out and the answers sent, till a late hour Tuesday night.

About 700 policemen and deputy sheriffs came out from Los Angeles to assist in the work of rescue. A unit of the Red Cross was established at the A. Lane residence, and all day scores of assistants furnished coffee and sandwiches to the crowd.

A number of the survivors of the flood are reported as without food and clothing. Relief is being given as fast as they can be located by the Red Cross and others.

A body was identified Tuesday as Homer Coe. Thursday morning several persons identified another body as Coe.

... The undertaker at Sawtelle, where the Coes were sent, has been notified to hold the body until the mistake can be rectified.

Two school teachers, pupils and all, including the school houses, were completely wiped out by the flood. One is known as Bee, and the other as the San Francisquito Canyon School. Not a pupil remains alive of either school, reports Mr. Neal, Deputy County Superintendent.

The Castaic community turned out en masse, under leadership of Mrs. Sloane, and organized relief for about 150 survivors, beside taking out and caring for 15 dead. Kern County traffic officials assisted in the work, which was directed under greatest difficulties. ... A temporary morgue was arranged and at one time eleven bodies were in it. They were removed to Bakersfield as fast as possible.

Undertaker Noble of San Fernando and his assistants embalmed 46 bodies Tuesday in eight hours. Four trained men did the work under Mr. Noble's direction.

Source: Exerpts from the Newhall Signal, March 15, 1928. (Article written March 14th)

Across the river on the Castaic side, the same heroic work that had been carried on in the different places was taken up probably before anyone else was on the scene, as A.M. Scullin happened to be at Castaic Junction when the flood struck. He had a narrow escape, but got out, then stopped every car by placing a truck across the road and sent word to Bakersfield. He then went to Castaic and aroused his neighbors, who established a camp near the scene of the disaster and began the work of rescue.

The workers were hampered for many hours by lack of supplies and medical assistance. As soon as word reached Bakersfield, several of the local officers, State Motor Police and Red Cross workers rushed to the scene, and officers laid aside their guns, and with others stripped off their clothes and went into the water, mud and debris.

Source: The Newhall Signal, March 22, 1928.


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