Hartford Circus Fire
April 2, 2017
My Town: Windsor
April 6, 2017

Floods from hurricanes Connie and Diane, August 1955. State Archives, Connecticut State Library. From “What a Disaster,” Connecticut Explored, Fall 2011

The Flood of 1936 and Hurricane of 1938 were devastating events for Connecticut. The Hurricane of 1938 cost as much as $100 million in property damage. Eighty-five people lost their lives.

But hurricanes Connie and Diane were worse. The two hurricanes struck Connecticut within days of each other in August 1955.

Flooded street in Naugatuck, August 1955. State Archives, Connecticut State Library

Connie struck first. The storm arrived on August 12 and 13. It didn’t pack high winds but dropped 8 inches of rain. The southwestern part of the state was drenched.

Five days later, Diane arrived. The storm poured another 16 inches of rain on the state. This time, the Naugatuck Valley and towns in the northwestern part of the state were hit hardest. More water slammed some towns when the Quinebaug Dam in Southbridge, Massachusetts collapsed.

Governor Abraham Ribicoff called the floods, “the worst disaster in the state’s history.” He declared a state of emergency. The state highway department reported that at least 17 bridges had been destroyed. Rock slides blocked roads. More dams broke. Railroad tracks were swept away. Homes and businesses were destroyed. Drinking-water supplies were contaminated.

Lt. Col. Robert Schwolsky of the Connecticut National Guard saw the damage from a helicopter. He said that Winsted’s Main Street, “looks like someone had taken cars and thrown them at one another.” Another officer saw a house floating down a swollen river. A little later, he saw another house float by with smoke still coming from its chimney.

Damage by the Naugatuck River from flooding a week before, August 21, 1955. State Archives, Connecticut State Library

The Connecticut National Guard got to work rescuing people. Sixteen helicopters plucked people off rooftops and out of trees. Helicopters from the U.S. Navy, Sikorksy Aircraft in Stratford, Kaman Aircraft in Bloomfield, West Point, the First Army Corps of Engineers, and the U.S. Marine Corps, rescued hundreds of people.

Emergency shelters filled quickly. The American Red Cross helped those who had lost their homes. Seventy-seven lives were lost. Property damage was more than $350 million.

This essay is adapted from “What a Disaster,” by Emma Demar and Elizabeth Normen, Connecticut Explored, Fall 2011.

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