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Enormous Dam Collapses in Italy, Thousands Feared Dead

Oct. 10, 1963 - The 873-foot-high Vajont Dam 10 miles north of Belluno, Italy, collapsed under the weight of torrential rains and mountain landslides last night. Rescue officials said they believed hundreds and possibly thousands were killed as a wall of water crashed into the Piave River valley. The collapse of the dam, one of the world’s highest, sent millions of tons of stored-up water into sleeping communities in the valley in northeast Italy. Rescuers in the pre-dawn hours reported grim wreckage in the wake of the roaring flood. In Venice, a fireman returning from the disaster scene said: “You can’t count the dead. There are hundreds and hundreds of them.” One village and half a town were reported completely wiped out. The Vajont Dam, finished in 1961, was the third highest concrete dam in the world. It was a tapered structure narrowing at its base. The dam was not on the Piave River itself. It held back water in a side reservoir. The Piave River valley, scene of the Italian Army’s stand against the Austrians after the Caporetto defeat of World War I, was familiar to millions as the setting of Ernest Hemingway’s novel “A Farewell to Arms.” Civil authorities in Belluno and Venice reported that in the last few days, thousands of tons of earth and rock on Mount Toc above the dam had been loosened by torrential rains.


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