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35 Incredible Photos Depict the Great Flood of 1938 in Los Angeles

Ian Smith

The Los Angeles flood of 1938 was responsible for inundating much of Los Angeles, Orange, and Riverside counties, California during February and March 1938. The flood was caused by a pair of Pacific storms that swept inland across the Los Angeles Basin, causing abnormally high rainfall across much of coastal Southern California. Between 113 to 115 people were killed in what ultimately became one of the most catastrophic natural disasters in Southern California history.The flood caused the Santa Ana, Los Angeles, and San Gabriel Rivers to burst their banks, washing away roads, bridges, and buildings, and stranding hundreds of people. Damages in parts of Los Angeles County were moderated by dams in the San Gabriel Mountains, while Orange and Riverside Counties took more damage because of the lack of flood-control works in the Santa Ana River system.

The flooding event of 1938 is considered a 50-year flood.It resulted in $40 million of damages, and the Red Cross deemed it the “fifth largest flood in history”.In response to the floods, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers began channelizing local streams and building more flood control dams. Dams built in the aftermath of the flood include Sepulveda Dam, Hansen Dam, Prado Dam, and Whittier Narrows Dam, which hydrologically connects the San Gabriel River to the Rio Hondo. These works have been instrumental in protecting coastal Southern California from subsequent flooding events, although the storms of 1969 and 2005, which had larger volume than the 1938 flood, still caused major damage and forced the evacuation of low-lying areas.

A boulder on a road after a rainstorm on March 1, 1938. The car may be the photographer's vehicle; no other information was available.

A boulder on a road after a rainstorm on March 1, 1938. The car may be the photographer’s vehicle; no other information was available.

Feb. 28, 1938 Autos stall in flooded Fox Hills Boulevard and Slauson Avenue after the first storm brought about 4 inches of rain.

Feb. 28, 1938 Autos stall in flooded Fox Hills Boulevard and Slauson Avenue after the first storm brought about 4 inches of rain.

Los Angeles flood of 1938

Los Angeles flood of 1938

March 1, 1938 A three-story structure once occupied by cafe at Cheeney Road and Topanga Canyon Road collapsed and toppled into the highway as prolonged rains softened foundations.

March 1, 1938 A three-story structure once occupied by cafe at Cheeney Road and Topanga Canyon Road collapsed and toppled into the highway as prolonged rains softened foundations.

March 1, 1938 Flooding in Culver City.

March 1, 1938 Flooding in Culver City.

March 2, 1938 Flooding at West 43rd Place near Leimert Boulevard.

March 2, 1938 Flooding at West 43rd Place near Leimert Boulevard.

March 2, 1938 A mudslide at Harper Avenue and Sunset Boulevard caught this automobile and closed the area to traffic.

March 2, 1938 A mudslide at Harper Avenue and Sunset Boulevard caught this automobile and closed the area to traffic.

March 2, 1938 A washed-out bridge at Colfax Avenue over the Los Angeles River in Studio City.

March 2, 1938 A washed-out bridge at Colfax Avenue over the Los Angeles River in Studio City.

March 2, 1938 Dr. A. J. Gray, left, Douglas Dawson and Dr. A. G. Hobbs do a little fishing at home on 500 block of South New Hampshire.

March 2, 1938 Dr. A. J. Gray, left, Douglas Dawson and Dr. A. G. Hobbs do a little fishing at home on 500 block of South New Hampshire.

March 2, 1938 Drains could not keep up with rain filling streets in downtown Los Angeles.

March 2, 1938 Drains could not keep up with rain filling streets in downtown Los Angeles.

March 2, 1938 Firemen search for the body of Ruth Randall, 28, and son Leonard, 6, after their home was destroyed by a landslide on the 1900 block of Landa Street.

March 2, 1938 Firemen search for the body of Ruth Randall, 28, and son Leonard, 6, after their home was destroyed by a landslide on the 1900 block of Landa Street.

March 2, 1938 Flooding at West 43rd Place and 11th Avenue near Leimert Boulevard stranded a school bus.

March 2, 1938 Flooding at West 43rd Place and 11th Avenue near Leimert Boulevard stranded a school bus.

March 2, 1938 Floodwaters in Los Angeles River destroy Southern Pacific railroad bridge. The photo was taken from North Figueroa Street bridge.

March 2, 1938 Floodwaters in Los Angeles River destroy Southern Pacific railroad bridge. The photo was taken from North Figueroa Street bridge.

March 2, 1938 Hugh Beckly stands atop a car almost covered by water at 6th Street near June. Arden Day cruises by in a skiff.

March 2, 1938 Hugh Beckly stands atop a car almost covered by water at 6th Street near June. Arden Day cruises by in a skiff.

March 2, 1938 Mrs. L. Swink put on her swimsuit as she moved out after flooding.

March 2, 1938 Mrs. L. Swink put on her swimsuit as she moved out after flooding.

March 2, 1938 Water rising above the drain level in underground conduits threatened telephone service in downtown Los Angeles. Fire Department pumpers answered the call.

March 2, 1938 Water rising above the drain level in underground conduits threatened telephone service in downtown Los Angeles. Fire Department pumpers answered the call.

March 2, 1938 Water-soaked earth moved rapidly down the side of Laurel Canyon at Kirkwood Avenue, carrying trees and boulders in its path and wrecking the basement garage of this home.

March 2, 1938 Water-soaked earth moved rapidly down the side of Laurel Canyon at Kirkwood Avenue, carrying trees and boulders in its path and wrecking the basement garage of this home.

March 3, 1938 Floodwaters flow slowly through the steets of Venice after a major storm.

March 3, 1938 Floodwaters flow slowly through the steets of Venice after a major storm.

March 3, 1938 Milkman Ray J. Henville secured himself a boat and boatman and made all deliveries on time and on doorstep.

March 3, 1938 Milkman Ray J. Henville secured himself a boat and boatman and made all deliveries on time and on doorstep.

March 3, 1938 The family of J.E. Webb in Venice is rescued by boat, and two children with mumps were sent to a hospital.

March 3, 1938 The family of J.E. Webb in Venice is rescued by boat, and two children with mumps were sent to a hospital.

March 3, 1938 The La Canada Street Bridge over Verdugo Wash near junction of Verdugo Road. The bridge, a WPA project, was under construction when the storm hit.

March 3, 1938 The La Canada Street Bridge over Verdugo Wash near junction of Verdugo Road. The bridge, a WPA project, was under construction when the storm hit.

March 3, 1938 The washed-out Santa Fe Bridge over the Arroyo Seco paralleling Pasadena Avenue Bridge.

March 3, 1938 The washed-out Santa Fe Bridge over the Arroyo Seco paralleling Pasadena Avenue Bridge.

March 3, 1938 These ruins were once a residence on the 2000 block of Los Encinos Street, Glendale. Two men met their death when the house collapsed into the street. Workmen search for the bodies.

March 3, 1938 These ruins were once a residence on the 2000 block of Los Encinos Street, Glendale. Two men met their death when the house collapsed into the street. Workmen search for the bodies.

March 3, 1938 William L. Griffin digs out the family car on the 1700 block of Fernlane Street as Lloyd Griffin and David Stagg watch.

March 3, 1938 William L. Griffin digs out the family car on the 1700 block of Fernlane Street as Lloyd Griffin and David Stagg watch.

March 4, 1938 A railroad crane was set up for bridge building work over the Los Angeles River near Avenue 19.

March 4, 1938 A railroad crane was set up for bridge building work over the Los Angeles River near Avenue 19.

March 4, 1938 A road crew removes debris from Foothill Boulevard at Lowell Street near Tujunga.

March 4, 1938 A road crew removes debris from Foothill Boulevard at Lowell Street near Tujunga.

March 5, 1938 Heavily traveled Riverside Drive in Glendale was undermined by the torrent of the Los Angeles River. This damaged section was near the former Grand Central Airport.

March 5, 1938 Heavily traveled Riverside Drive in Glendale was undermined by the torrent of the Los Angeles River. This damaged section was near the former Grand Central Airport.

March 5, 1938 Henry Cooper with a dog and rooster, all that was saved from Earl Callan's home, part of which can be seen in the Los Angeles River in the background.

March 5, 1938 Henry Cooper with a dog and rooster, all that was saved from Earl Callan’s home, part of which can be seen in the Los Angeles River in the background.

March 6, 1938 Ruth Curry, with a broken arm, owner of Camp Baldy resort, stands in front of shattered cabins after floodwaters destroyed the majority of them

March 6, 1938 Ruth Curry, with a broken arm, owner of Camp Baldy resort, stands in front of shattered cabins after floodwaters destroyed the majority of them

March 7, 1938 A portion of Roosevelt Highway (now Pacific Coast Highway) at Santa Monica Canyon is repaired after heavy rains on March 1

March 7, 1938 A portion of Roosevelt Highway (now Pacific Coast Highway) at Santa Monica Canyon is repaired after heavy rains on March 1

March 7, 1938 Los Angeles city engineering crews fill in a 300-yard section of Ventura Boulevard near Laurel Canyon Drive that was gouged out by the swollen Los Angeles River on March 1.

March 7, 1938 Los Angeles city engineering crews fill in a 300-yard section of Ventura Boulevard near Laurel Canyon Drive that was gouged out by the swollen Los Angeles River on March 1.

March 7, 1938 Mr. and Mrs. J. L. Smith, their daughter and 5-year-old granddaughter at Burbank and Ethel Streets in Van Nuys begin the task of digging out their home.

March 7, 1938 Mr. and Mrs. J. L. Smith, their daughter and 5-year-old granddaughter at Burbank and Ethel Streets in Van Nuys begin the task of digging out their home.

March, 1938 Wreckage piled up in front of the Camp Baldy garage.

March, 1938 Wreckage piled up in front of the Camp Baldy garage.

Workers repair a telephone pole. No other information was available.

Workers repair a telephone pole. No other information was available.