On this day in 1955, torrential rains from Hurricane Diane — the second hurricane to hit Connecticut in five days — triggered catastrophic flooding across the state. After Hurricane Connie dumped six inches of water across the state earlier in the week, the 14 – 20 additional inches of rain from Diane proved too much for the state’s rivers and streams to bear. In the dark, early morning hours of August 19, floodwaters roared through dozens of neighborhoods as major rivers like the Farmington, Quinebaug, and Naugatuck crested their banks. Entire homes were carried downstream, massive iron bridges were washed away, and main streets in towns like Putnam, Torrington, and Waterbury were turned into raging torrents in what was one of the worst floods in Connecticut history. Nearly a hundred people lost their lives as the worst of the floodwaters struck before sunrise, when most residents were asleep. Thousands of homes were damaged or completely lost, and an estimated 86,000 people lost their jobs as dozens of major factory buildings — all of them strategically located along major rivers — were destroyed.
The following day, President Eisenhower declared Connecticut a major disaster area as both state and federal cleanup efforts began in earnest. Hundreds of stranded Connecticans were rescued by boat and helicopter through the joint efforts of the National Guard and Coast Guard. Within a matter of days, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers imported and installed several portable, temporary bridges — originally designed to be used in European war zones in World War II — to alleviate the transportation gridlock caused by so many of the state’s bridges being washed away.
While the catastrophic Flood of 1955 did prompt major upgrades to Connecticut’s river monitoring practices and dam systems, the cost was steep, both in lives and property lost. A state commission report issued three months after the flood estimated that Connecticut sustained over $170 million in cumulative damages — an amount equal to over $1.5 billion in today’s dollars.
“Torrington Recovers After the Flood of ’55,” connecticuthistory.org
Jim Shea, “When Rivers Raged” & “Fury Unleashed,” Hartford Courant
“The Flood of ’55: Memories,” Hartford Courant
“The Great Flood of 1955,” Waterbury Time Machine blog