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1976: The Teton Dam failed, KTVB captured the aftermath from the air

It was one of the biggest disasters in Idaho history.

REXBURG, Idaho — 12 miles northeast of Rexburg in eastern Idaho, the Teton Dam sat 305 feet high.

It was completed in the fall of 1975 and was meant to provide flood control, hydropower, and supplemental irrigation water for over 111,000 acres of farmland in the Upper Snake River Valley.

On Saturday, June 5, 1976, bulldozer operators were working to plug what they considered minor holes where water was beginning to get through.

By 11:52 a.m., those holes weren't minor anymore.

Water began rushing through the dam, to the tune of about 1,000,000 cubic feet per second.

In some places, water reached 30 feet high.

"I'm in the office and Sal (Celeski) is over in the newsroom and my private line rang," former general manager Robert E. Kreuger recalled. "And I picked it up. And it was a guy by the name of Governor Cecil de Andrus."

"The Teton Dam just collapsed,' Krueger recalled Governor Andrus telling him over the phone. "'And I'm going over there and if you can get Celeski to be out of the airport...he can go with us. Tell him to bring a camera and he can go with us on the plane."

Sal Celeski was the KTVB news director at the time, but his background was in photography.

RELATED: 'He was the gold standard for journalism in Idaho': How Sal Celeski helped KTVB bring local news into focus

"I went right over to Sal while he grabs his stuff, and he's out at the airport," Krueger said.

Celeski took the flight with Governor Andrus and likely other members of his staff and flew to eastern Idaho as the disaster unfolded.

In total, more than 80 billion gallons of water flowed through the dam and into the 300 square miles of neighboring valleys by 8 o'clock that night.

Nearby Sugar City was under 15 feet of water within two hours of the collapse.

The cities of Rexburg, Wilford, and Roberts, as well as parts of Idaho Falls and Blackfoot, were flooded.

11 people were killed, homes and cars were carried away by the floodwaters, and two-thirds of the 9,000 Rexburg residents were left homeless.

The disaster caused more than $400,000,000 in property damage

The water took three days to reach the American Falls Dam, 70 miles away.

"He had some great, great, great footage, obviously taken from the airplane and the water over there, the dam that broken," Krueger said.

"What we did was, we shared a lot of that film with our competitor," Krueger said.

Caleski turned the deadly disaster into a 30-minute special the next day.

Investigators later determined the collapse was due to a series of flaws in the design and construction of the dam.

There has been no attempt to rebuild the Teton Dam since its collapse.

After the collapse, the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation instituted the "dam safety" program.

It is now used as a worldwide standard for every new dam built.

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