The 1955 flood was arguably Connecticut’s greatest natural disaster in modern times. Two hurricanes brushed by southern New England in a week’s time, dropping an exceptional amount of water across parts of Connecticut and Massachusetts. Tropical Storm Connie and Tropical Storm Diane resulted in over two feet of rain in parts of the Northwest Hills and Berkshires.
The record rainfall sent rivers raging into towns and cities across the state. The Naugatuck, Farmington, and Quinebaug Rivers – along with their tributaries – raged through valleys on the morning of August 19, 1955. Winsted, Thomaston, Waterbury, Ansonia, Farmington and Putnam were just some of the towns devastated.
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The flooding on the Naugatuck River began upstream in Winsted when the Mad River exploded from its banks, destroying downtown Winsted. The surge of water continued downstream into Torrington, Thomaston, Waterbury, Naugatuck and Ansonia, destroying hundreds and hundreds of homes and factories. Dozens of people drowned as the flood moved south while hundreds waited to be rescued on their roofs.
After the Naugatuck River receded, Waterbury looked “War torn. You couldn’t believe that little river, that was nothing, was a ripple, could do that. You saw debris and furniture and suitcases and just overwhelming. You just didn’t expect something like that in our little town,” Waterbury resident Barbara Genovese said.
In Putnam, the Belding-Hemingway Magnesium factory exploded in a spectacular fire, illuminating the night sky for miles, after the Quinebaug River came out of its banks.
All told, more than $200 million in damage was done (in 1955 dollars) across the state and 90 people were killed.
After the flood, a series of flood control measures were put into place to ensure a flood like 1955 doesn’t happen again. The large Thomaston Dam on the Naugatuck River is one of the largest flood control measures erected by the Army Corps of Engineers.
Read more on Ryan Hanrahan's blog
See the Waterbury Republican-American's extensive coverage
The Connecticut State Library page on the Connecticut Floods of 1955
Northeast River Forecast Center Page on the flood