Going Beyond the Call: Southern New England Telephone Company's Response to Natural Disasters in Connecticut
Blizzard of 1888
The Blizzard of 1888 hit the northeastern United States with a fierce intensity that etched itself into people's memories. An unrelenting fury of heavy snows, bitter cold, and high winds pounded the region from Washington, D.C., to the Canadian border in a storm that lasted for three days in mid-March.
The storm took people by surprise, and many were unprepared for the resulting isolation and destruction. Snow was measured in Connecticut between twenty and fifty inches, but high winds caused snowdrifts up to twenty feet in several areas. In one twenty-four hour period, thirty-one inches of snow fell in New Haven with forty-five inches as the total by the end of the storm. Railroad service was halted, businesses had to shut down, and citizens of the state were imprisoned in their homes while the storm raged. It took days for many to dig themselves out. Over 400 people across the east coast died in the storm, and damage was estimated at $20 million.
When the storms passed, SNET, just ten years old then, got to work repairing lines and restoring telephone service. While no record has survived of the impact of disruption around the state, it was estimated that in New Haven alone over 25% of telephones were out of service.
The company learned much from this disaster, as it would from disasters to come. They placed a heavier emphasis on sturdy construction and developed the means to put cables underground. And they realized that they had to prepare in advance for the possibility of disasters.