On December 2 1959, fifty three years ago, the people of Fréjus experienced one of the saddest manmade disasters recorded in the history of Provence.
In the evening round about 9 p.m the concrete wall of the Malpasset dam built 12 kms away from the city collapsed and broke killing over 420 people including 135 children. The waters roared down the valleys at about 70kms per hour destroying two villages hitting Fréjus 20 minutes later before finally emptying into the sea.
It was a relatively new dam, constructed only 5 years previously to supply water and irrigation to the region.
Why did this happen?
There was no earthquake; it seems the location of the dam was not suitable, and for this types of structure the rock must be solid – this was not the case.
At the same time construction work started on the new A8 motorway nearby. The guardian of the dam noticed cracks on the dam at the time of blasting but his warnings were ignored. He was convinced all was not right and even moved his family to higher ground.
It was sunny and breezy this Sunday in Fréjus, unlike this ill fated day when it poured and poured with rain. Families were out walking in the area of the dam, others took time to pay tribute to the families at various ceremonies. A new monument was erected December 2 1959 in the Roman arena for the 50th anniversary.
The children of December 2 1959 now have families of their own but they will always remember the tragic night when the damned dam swung open and released the reservoir water – all 52 million tons of it.