Flooded Torrington

Downtown Torrington, where streets and buildings were inundated by flood waters which crippled the city. This aerial view shows the condition about late on the afternoon of the flood's first day. (HERMAN MARSHALL / August 19, 1955)

Floods ravaged Connecticut Friday, claiming many lives and causing untold millions of dollars in damage.

Early reports, unconfirmed, listed at least 38 dead or missing, most of them children. The death toll also rose in the rest of New England which was struck by torrential rains and major floods.

Terming the floods "the worst disaster in the state's history," Gov. Ribicoff declared a state of emergency and asked President Eisenhower to declare Connecticut a major disaster area so that federal funds and other assistance could be rushed here as soon as possible.

Communities Isolated

Throughout the state, entire communities were isolated as raging water cut off roads, crumbled bridges, swept away railroad tracks and trestles, toppled houses and destroyed factories and ruined drinking water supplies and foodstuffs.

At least four major dams broke Friday. Homes and businesses and at least two dozen bridges were washed away in various sections of the state.

Hardest hit regions of the state were the Naugatuck Valley area, northwestern Connecticut, especially the Torrington-Winsted areas and northeastern Connecticut in the region of Stafford Springs and Putnam.

The Connecticut National Guard was mobilized by Gov. Ribicoff shortly after 1 a.m. Sixteen helicopters, equipped for rescue work, flew into the worst hit areas and took people off roof tops and trees.

Friday night the U.S. Navy flew 16 additional rescue helicopters to Connecticut. During the day, eight helicopters from Sikorski in Stratford, two from Kaman Aircraft in Bloomfield, two from the First Army and one each from West Point and the U.S. Marine Corps rescued hundreds of persons.

Civil Defense and emergency shelters in all parts of the state which were not under water were filled with refugees and the American Red Cross set up a central disaster headquarters in Hartford to care for the entire state.

Typical of the communities wrecked by the flood water was Winsted. Late Friday afternoon a helicopter flew a First Army, Counter Intelligence officer over the area and he reported that it looked as if the entire business district of Winsted has been destroyed and estimated that about 85 per cent of the town's industries were either completely destroyed or badly damaged.

Troops Rushed In

Troops were rushed into the area late Friday afternoon when reports were received in Hartford of looting. Lt. Col. Robert Schwolsky of the Connecticut National Guard, reported from a helicopter: "I've never seen anything like Winsted's Main Street. It looks like someone had taken cars and thrown them at one another."

He said he saw a four-story building turned on its base and there were countless persons stranded on rooftops pleading for milk and food for their children.

In north[eastern] Connecticut, Putnam was equally hard hit. The town was cut in two by flood waters when the Quinebaug Dam in Southbridge, Mass. burst. The town has two rivers running through it and both overflowed, putting the town under several feet of water. The Providence Street Bridge in the center of Putnam collapsed.

Adding to the disaster, a fire broke out in the Blooms Mills building causing untold damage.

Bridge Blown Up

Friday night, state highway department crews and National Guard troops blew up a bridge in Putnam that had been partially destroyed. The wrecked bridge had been damming up water, adding to the peril.

In the Naugatuck Valley area, Ansonia, Waterbury, Seymour and Naugatuck were underwater in many sections. Mayor Raymond Snyder of Waterbury said there are at least 15 dead in that city. Mayor Snyder said he saw at least 12 bodies floating down the swollen river.