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University of Connecticut University Libraries Archives & Special Collections at the Thomas J. Dodd Research Center

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Going Beyond the Call: Southern New England Telephone Company's Response to Natural Disasters in Connecticut

 

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Blizzard of 1888

Flood of 1936

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Flood of 1955

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Flood of 1936


On March 12, 1936, rain began falling across Connecticut. The state had already been covered with a blanket of six to eight inches of snow. Rains poured down for the next nine days and dropped up to fourteen inches on already saturated and frozen land. These incredible forces of nature unleashed on Connecticut the greatest floods in its history to that date. The Connecticut and Farmington Rivers and all of their tributaries became raging torrents. Ice flows added to the destruction. Water and ice tore out bridges, highways, roads, and railways. The dam at New Hartford burst, and homes and buildings were washed away or destroyed. Fourteen thousand people were left homeless, several were dead or missing, and epidemic disease threatened the population. The National Guard was called to action as the ravaging floods paralyzed business, traffic, communication, and home life, as the cities and towns along the rivers became the principal centers of destruction.

The challenges for SNET were immense. Two-thirds of the telephones in the affected areas were out of service. Hartford in particular was hard hit, as all of its 56,000 phones were out at one time. The Central Office on Trumbull Street was inundated with twenty feet of water after the employees had waged a gallant fight to protect the building. The Connecticut River crested at an incredible 37.5 feet on Saturday, March 21, after the rains had ceased, but the men and women of SNET had already sprung into action.

Engineers, line crews, and technicians scrambled to restore and keep power on at the Central Offices. Switchboards were quickly turned back on. In Hartford, operators were brought to the building, first by rowboat, then on an emergency catwalk bridge from the SNET Pearl Street building. By Monday, March 23, two-thirds of Hartford's phones were back on and handling the increased volume of calls for emergencies, news, and information of family or friends. The work at Hartford was emblematic of efforts throughout the state. All the employees of the company rallied together to garner equipment, generators, pumps, batteries, sandbags, food, and other supplies to keep Central Offices working. The field-crews repaired and replaced cables, wires, and poles that had been buried or destroyed. By March 28, all of the phone service to the public had been restored. The people of SNET had worked around the clock and under dangerous conditions to restore service. The company motto, which at that time was "the message must go through," was courageously and efficiently fulfilled.