California Landslides Kill Thirty-Three – 1/5/1982

US History |

Throughout its history, Californians have seen their share of landslides on how much land is lost as well as lives. Some of them have not caused much harm while others have been devastating. Usually, landslides are remembered for taking away large numbers of lives or property. However, it is only a matter of time before a large rainstorm appears over the right area and causes numerous landslides with no end in sight.

A series of landslides happen near San Francisco, California on January 5th, 1982 that results in the Golden Gate Bridge being shut down while 33 individuals are killed. The catalyst for this destruction was a severe rain storm that generates an amazing 18,000 variety of landslides.

Two quick-moving fronts holding severe amounts of heavy rain travels through San Francisco in a period of 36 hours starting on January 4th; the area had already received a portion of rain that was equal to half of what their average of annual precipitation is; also, some of the areas had to deal with as much as 24 inches of rain that occurred on January 4th and 5th. Finally, the rain started to activate on January 5th thousands of different landslides throughout the Bay Area hills.

The slides captured its victims totally unaware practically without exception. A professor at San Francisco State University, Kai-yu-Hsu was at his home in Tiburon doing something in the basement when suddenly, a deafening roar could be heard and within seconds, his home was completely gone; the house had smashed into a park at the end of a hill. Roland, his son, had tragically witnessed the event while he was outside the home standing.

The damage the landslides and falling trees caused were extensive as roughly 7,800 businesses and homes received major damage. Mud and large boulders caused roads to become impassable as they came crashing down on them; one of the landslides even forced the closing of the Golden State Bridge. Sadly, 10 individuals lost their lives instantly when 7 homes collapsed on a hillside in Love Creek; twenty-two to thirty-three individuals were assumed to have been killed in total. The region eventually was named as a federal disaster area as damages totaled more than $100 million; this was viewed as the Bay Area’s worst natural disaster since the devastating earthquake in 1906.

Once the storm and devastating landslides stopped days later, aerial surveillance was used by officials and were able to calculate that roughly 18,000 unique slides occurred. People were able to rebuild their homes mostly in the same areas they originally stood. Even though the homes were constructed on the original lots, extra precaution was taken using retaining walls and sub-surface pipes in order to prevent a similar disaster from happening again.

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Rebecca Smith


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