March 9, 2002 — James J. Erratchuo lost his wife, Rosarita A. Erratchuo (b. 12-7-1896) and his infant son Roland T. Erratchuo (b. 1-5-1927) shortly after midnight on March 13, 1928 — moments after the St. Francis Dam broke at three minutes before midnight on March 12.
Construction on the 600-foot-long, 185-foot-high St. Francis Dam started in August 1924. With a 12.5-billion-gallon capacity, the reservoir began to fill with water on March 1, 1926. It was completed two months later.
At 11:57:30 p.m. on March 12, 1928, the dam failed, sending a 180-foot-high wall of water crashing down San Francisquito Canyon. An estimated 411 people lay dead by the time the floodwaters reached the Pacific Ocean south of Ventura 5½ hours later.
It was the second-worst disaster in California history, after the great San Francisco earthquake and fire of 1906, in terms of lives lost — and America's worst civil engineering failure of the 20th Century.