Flood Stories – “They Reported Us Dead!”
It’s another beautiful spring day, so let’s recount another story of cold, wet terror from our famous midnight flood of New Year’s 1934. After a sudden colossal downpour, 20-foot high walls of rocks, mud and debris tore down out of the mountains, and in the inky blackness, plowed through neighborhoods like rampaging bulldozers. As the following story shows, some not in the direct path of the floods were unaware of the devastation until the next morning.
Charles Bausback was a longtime resident of the valley, and until his death a couple years ago, was perhaps our best storyteller. He was blessed with a crystal clear memory of his youth, and an ability to weave an interesting tale, and has left us with a legacy of his many reminiscences. He told us that his family was enjoying a quiet evening together, safe from the pounding rain inside their home at 3121 Evelyn Ave. One of our valley’s many normally dry washes ran adjacent to their backyard, and had a pretty decorative bridge across it. Through the rainstorm they heard a loud cracking noise, and ran outside to find the bridge gone and a rushing river roaring down what had been the dry streambed. Retreating back inside, they put in a call to the sheriff to see about getting some sandbags to control the water. The terse reply was that they were only concerned with saving lives at that point. Eleven-year-old Charles set down to working on a jig saw puzzle. At midnight, the ground began to shake like an earthquake, trembling so violently that the puzzle pieces were knocked to the floor, and then subsided, just as the lights went out. With the rain still pounding down, there was nothing to do but wait inside until morning.
They awoke to devastation on both sides of them. Where their bridge had been was now piled with boulders and debris, and the neighbor’s house on that side had been half sheared off. Walking over to the other side of their yard they saw the houses on that side were completely gone. The midnight flood had gone on either side of them! With no water or electricity they were fairly well cut off from the world. They had a battery powered radio that they listened to, and were surprised and saddened to hear how badly the rest of the valley had been affected, while they were nearly untouched. Initial reports were hundreds of fatalities. Two days later the Red Cross broadcast the names of those confirmed dead so far, and the Bausback family were shocked to hear their own names read off. They had been reported as missing, and presumed dead, since their neighborhood had been hit so hard.
A couple days later a water truck got close enough to their house that the Bausback’s could scramble over the debris and refill their water containers.Charles climbed up to the cab of the truck and told the driver that they had been reported dead. The driver was shocked, and told Charles, “Get in the truck and I’ll drive you down to the Red Cross headquarters so you can tell them that you are all still alive.” Little Charles got the satisfaction of telling the Red Cross officials that he and his family were indeed alive.
An issue at that time was the inability to calculate the death toll. The phones were out, and many areas were inaccessible. Initial reports cited hundreds of dead, and newspapers repeated wild tales of mass death. Only after months did the death toll bottom out at 40, which was the popularly accepted number for many decades. Art Cobery, who wrote the book “The Great Crescenta Flood,” has written that research has shown that only 28 deaths were officially tallied. But an unknown factor here is the transients of the Valley – the migrant Okies reportedly camping in the canyons who even Charles Bausback said died but were never counted. Some bodies were washed to the ocean and may have sank, or were buried under rocks. Perhaps we’ll never know the true number of dead.
Mike Lawler is the former
president of the Historical Society
of the Crescenta Valley and loves local history. Reach him at