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Disasters in Connecticut

Overview

The Connecticut Floods of 1955: A Fifty-Year Perspective

"On November 3, 1955, the Connecticut Flood Recovery Committee's final report declared, 'Connecticut was the hardest hit victim of the worst flood in the history of the eastern United States.' The state endured Nature's fury in two major floods, one on August 19 and the second on October 16. Both were results of torrential rains."

"On August 13 Hurricane Connie dropped four to six inches of rain on Connecticut. Five days later, another hurricane, Diane, dropped an additional fourteen inches of rain in a thirty-hour period between Thursday morning and Friday noon. The floods came on the 19th. The greatest loss of life and destruction to property occurred along the Mad and Still Rivers in Winsted, the Naugatuck, the Farmington, and the Quinebaug in the Putnam-Killingly region. Governor Abraham Ribicoff personally visited the scenes of destruction. President Dwight Eisenhower declared Connecticut a disaster area. The survivors, however, hardly had time to recover when the second flood took place. From October 14 through the 16th, heavy rains once more saturated the state. Gale winds and high tides resulted in new destruction along the shore in towns such as Norwalk. Again Governor Ribicoff visited sites of destruction, and the President issued a second declaration designating Connecticut as a disaster area."

"REPORT OF THE CONNECTICUT FLOOD RECOVERY COMMITTEE 
FOREWORD 
On August 19, 1955, Connecticut was the hardest hit victim of the worst flood in the history of eastern United States.  A week earlier, August 13, the wake of Hurricane Connie deposited from 4 to 6 inches of rainfall on the State.  On Thursday, August l8, the backlash of Hurricane Diane unleashed 14 inches of rain within a 30-hour period between Thursday morning and Friday noon.  The already saturated terrain could not absorb Diane's downpour.  Rivers, brooks, and streams which had virtually dried up during the parched months of July and early August were converted within a few hours into raging torrents which cut terrifying paths of destruction.  The Mad and Still Rivers in Winsted the Naugatuck, the Farmington, and the Quinebaug in the Putnam-Killingly area were the worst destroyers.  Many lesser streams also wreaked their share of havoc.  By the time the waters had subsided the flash floods had taken nearly one hundred lives and caused damage estimated at $200,000,000.Under the general direction of Governor Ribicoff, all resources were immediately mobilized to combat the disaster.  Saving life and caring for stricken families came first.  State, federal, municipal, and private agencies as well as individuals, joined in rescue, feeding, and shelter operations. 
On Saturday, August 27, the Governor appointed a Flood Recovery Committee to study the many problems facing the State and its citizens in overcoming the disaster and to map out a program of immediate and long range rehabilitation."

October 14-16 saw another storm hit. 

"The Flood of 1955 was one of the worst floods in Connecticut's history. Two back-to-back hurricanes saturated the land and several river valleys in the state, causing severe flooding in August 1955. The rivers most affected were the Mad River and Still River in Winsted, the Naugatuck River, the Farmington River, and the Quinebaug River. The towns that suffered much loss include Farmington, Putnam, Naugatuck, Waterbury, and Winsted. 87 people died during the flooding, and property damage across the state was estimated at more than $200 million, in 1955 figures. The floods prompted changes in safety measures, river monitoring, and zoning laws....The flooding was caused by the rains from two hurricanes, Hurricane Connie and Hurricane Diane. On August 11, Hurricane Connie swept through the East Coast—missing Connecticut, but bringing about 4 to 6 inches of rainfall to the state on August 13. Hurricane Diane came through the following week. The path of Hurricane Diane came closer to Connecticut, after soaking up waters from the Atlantic Ocean. Once the hurricane reached the coast of Long Island, it dumped an additional 13 to 20 inches of rain on Connecticut over a two-day period. The heavy rains on already-saturated ground made several rivers in the region begin to overflow. ...The floods prompted the United States Army Corps of Engineers to build $70 million worth of dams and flood walls along several Connecticut rivers."

"Damage from Diane was heaviest in Connecticut, where rainfall peaked at 16.86 in (428 mm) near Torrington. The storm produced the state's largest flood on record, which effectively split the state into two by destroying bridges and cutting communications. All major streams and valleys were flooded, and 30 stream gauges reported their highest levels on record. The Connecticut River at Hartford reached a water level of 30.6 ft (9.3 m), the third highest on record there. The flooding destroyed a large section of downtown Winsted, much of which was never rebuilt."

"In Diane's immediate aftermath, one of the first priorities in response was to distribute adequate inoculations for typhoid amongst the widespread areas left without clean drinking water."

"Additional flooding affected New England in September and October 1955, although neither was as major as those caused by Hurricane Diane...In 1956, the United States Congress passed the Federal Flood Insurance Act, but the program was not enacted due to lack of funding. A nationwide flood program was not enacted until the passage of the National Flood Insurance Act of 1968. After the floods from Diane, the American federal government provided funding for the Army Corps of Engineers to construct dams and reservoirs throughout New England to mitigate future flooding. In about 14 years, the Corps built 29 dams in Connecticut alone at the cost of $70 million, including three along the Connecticut River."

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