Waterbury: Disruption Everywhere

WaterburyFloods and FloodingDisasters and AccidentsNaugatuckArmy National GuardNaugatuck River

On the morning of August 19, 1955, the drenching rain greeted our family as we set out on what appeared to be a normal workday, although obviously a very wet one. My Dad went to his job as a plumber at the American Brass Co., my brother went to his summer job at the Imperial Laundry, and I began my morning paper route.

At the end of my route, there was an overlook to the Naugatuck Valley. The valley was filled with water to a level that covered supermarkets and all structures within the valley. Large islands of debris floated down what used to be the Naugatuck River. Supermarket employees gathered on the roofs of their stores as the water continued to rise and to rush with great speed.

My father was greeted with a factory completely flooded and my brother was unable to cross the river to his job, as bridges had been knocked out. Some say that the flood was the beginning of the end of the manufacturing era in the Brass Center of the world. Heroic projects were mounted in the coming year to clean out the mud, debris and some bodies within the plants.

The Army National Guard took over the state under martial law. We lost some utilities for some time. The National Guard established water stations where canvas "cows" dispensed water to the citizenry. A massive vaccination program was instituted and I know that we received a series of three vaccinations to ward off typhus. Bailey bridges quickly arose to span the river and allow the return of normal traffic. Turns out that this was unnecessary since the swollen waters, in their own way, cleansed the areas it washed.

Cemeteries were devastated, whole neighborhoods of tenements in Waterbury were destroyed and the lives of all were disrupted at one level or other. Citizens would travel to outlying country towns seeking fresh water from springs. Eventually, large numbers of itinerant craftspeople arrived to support the massive rebuilding efforts of the brass mills and other industrial plants in our native Waterbury.

The most enduring memory I have as a then twelve-year-old boy was the sight and sound of helicopters. Sikorsky Aircraft apparantly dispatched their entire fleet of helicopters to assist in the rescue efforts. I shall never forget the sight of people being rescued from the roofs of stores. From that day on, the sound of helicopters signaled a great act of mercy from a corporate giant.

Copyright © 2014, Los Angeles Times
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WaterburyFloods and FloodingDisasters and AccidentsNaugatuckArmy National GuardNaugatuck River
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    Dawn broke on a terrible scene in the industrial city of Waterbury on Aug. 19, 1955. The Naugatuck River was tearing away factories, commercial buidings and an entire neighborhood. Twenty-nine people died.

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