Fort Peck, MT Landslide Causes Part Of Dam To Fail, Sept 1938

Landslide at Fort Peck Dam






Fort Peck, Sept. 22. -- (AP) -- One man was killed and seven others were missing and believed dead Thursday night after millions of yards of dirt and rocks slid down the upstream side of the east abutment of the giant Fort Peck dam across the Missouri river here.
Cause of the slide, which occurred almost without warning Thursday afternoon, was not immediately determined, MAJ. CLARK KITTRELL, United States army engineer in charge of construction, said.
The main dam was not damaged, army engineers reported.
The dead: ALBERT V. STOESER, 23, Park Grove.
The missing: NELSON P. VAN STONE, 31, Fort Peck; DOUGLAS J. MOORE, 35, Fort Peck; ARCHIE R. MOIR, 26, Hinadale; J. I. JOHNSON, 25, Dodson; OLIVER BUCHER, Park Grove; DOLPHIE PAULSON, 41, New Deal; WALTER LUBBINGE, 20, New Deal.
Ten dam workers were treated for minor injuries at the Fort Peck hospital.
MAJOR KITTRELL'S office reported CLAUDE A. MINTER, at first listed as missing, had been found uninjured.
The missing men had been working in a core pool at the abutment.
The army engineers reported efforts to find the missing men hampered by the soft and dangerous condition of the loose dirt and rocks which slid from the abutment into the reservoir.
A spokesman for the engineers said 100 employes had gone "over and over" the scene, along the edges of the chasm and in other places considered safe, in efforts to find the men but the work was slow.
The slide carried from the upstream side of the abutment into the lake being formed dirt and rocks from a section 2,000 feet long and left a chasm 200 feet deep.
In a prepared statement, MAJOR KITTRELL said a "preliminary survey of the damage would not indicate that any reason for alarm should exist regarding the security of the main dam."
The dam, estimated to cost $100,000,000, is nearing completion.
Newsmen said they were told the damage was serious but not beyond repair.
Observers said there was apparently little hope of finding any of the seven men alive.
A huge wave caused by the earth sliding into the reservoir behind the dam washed several small craft moored in the lake onto the shore.
Work on the huge structure was only partially shut down as a result of the accident, two of four dredges continued to pour fill material into the barrier as engineers prepared to draft plans for repairing of damage caused by the slide.
"The water level is below any portion of the dam which may have been weakened by the movement," MAJOR KITTRELL said in a statement released late Thursday night.
"Against the unaffected portion of the dam the water is approximately 90 feet deep, having been lowered since the middle of the summer about 20 feet through releases through the tunnels for navigation below the dam.
"The lowest point along the top of the dame in the affected area is still more than 115 feet higher than the watere level in the reservoir."
"Future releases through the tunnels will continue at about the same rate and for the same purpose, lowering the reservoir, it is estimated, about seven to nine inches per day."
In an earlier statement, MAJOR KITTRELL said the "partial failure in the upstream face of the Fort Peck dam near the east abutment occurred at 1:15 p.m. Thursday, moving a quantity of fill material into the lake upstream."
"The cause of this failure has not yet been determined."
"The move of material has apparently practically stabilized, leaving still over 100 feet of freeboard at the point affected."
"No damage was done to tunnels and the flow of the water through them continued normal."
Considerable equipment, including one pump boat and two large drag lines (steam shovels) were buried under the earth slide.
Eyewitnesses said that viewed from the downstream side the great earthen barrier appeared as usual after the slide.
But looking down from the top of the structure, over the abutment where the slide occurred, it was a different scene. Below could be seen a tangled mass of fill material, railroad tracks and dredge-line trestle, pushed many yards in the lake behind the dam.
Army engineers did not estimate the amount of earth and rocks involved in the slide, but lay observers believed it would amount to at least 5,000,000 cubic yards.
The work of placing fill material on the dam was scheduled for completion within two months, with rock facing of the upstream side to continue next year.
Thursday's slide, it was said, would undoubtedly cause much extra work and probably delay final completion of the dam.
The slide came so suddenly that several executive officers who were inspecting the abutment section from an automobile were saved only by the quick thinking of a chauffeur, who backed the car full speed over rapidly widening holes and cracks in the abutment fill.
One workman, who refused to be quoted by name, said he and 20 companions started to run when the slide started. He said the earth seemed to fall away under their pounding feet but they succeeded in reaching safety.
Many large cracks were still visible in the dam area just east of where the slide occurred.

The Billings Gazette Montana 1938-09-23