Abstract

On 2 December 1959, the Malpasset arch dam in SE France suddenly failed, flooding the valley down to the sea, causing huge destruction and more than 400 deaths. Built from 1952 to 1954 for water supply and irrigation, filling of the reservoir was delayed 5 years and the failure occurred following a flash flood of the river the dam was closing. Post-failure studies and expertise during a trial revealed poor field investigations on a micaschist rock foundation crisscrossed by faults, and poor management of construction of the structure. The failure was ascribed to uplift, which moved a rock dihedron defined by a conspicuous fault and a tear along foliation. This paper shows that, in addition to the many traps listed by previous investigations (mostly geological and geotechnical), the human and organizational factors can also shed a new light on this catastrophe. Keeping lessons from Malpasset alive and increasing the knowledge about this case is relevant, as worldwide, after the catastrophe, not only did new regulations on dams appear but also the new fields of geological engineering and rock mechanics were developed. Thus, consciously or not, every geological engineer or rock mechanics specialist is somehow a descendant of this case.

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