Going Beyond the Call: Southern New England Telephone Company's Response to Natural Disasters in Connecticut
Flood of 1955
In mid-August 1955 Hurricanes Connie and Diane, arriving less than one week apart, passed over southern New England. In their wake they left record levels of flooding and wreaked widespread havoc to the area.
Connecticut experienced extensive property damage -- over $350,000,000 worth -- and loss of lives. The Housatonic, Naugatuck, and Quinebaug rivers saw record flooding. Towns and cities in Litchfield and Hartford counties were particularly hard hit. The downtown section of the city of Winsted was completely washed away. In Connecticut alone, an estimated 4700 people were injured and seventy-seven killed. Countless were left homeless.
SNET had to contend with extensive damage to their facilities, destroyed cables across rivers, and underground cables shredded beyond recognition. Their first priority was to provide service to police and fire departments, civil defense and military services, and disaster and relief agencies. While repairs were getting underway, operators were swamped with calls. Every available switchboard position was staffed by regular operators and former employees who came back to help out in the emergency. On the first day of the floods operators handled a record twenty percent more out-of-town calls than on any previous day in their history. In Winsted, the Central Office was completely destroyed - the floods had gouged out the underground cables leading to the building. The Putnam office found itself five feet deep in mud and water.
Crews set to work to restore telephone service and rebuild offices that were destroyed. The company estimated that while less than ten percent of the state's almost 1,000,000 telephones were out, those that were would need extensive repairs. Emergency orders for supplies were filled quickly - Western Electric provided 62,000,000 feet of cable wire in twenty-four hours. SNET provided coin telephone booths in central locations in towns and cities to serve the needs of those without service.
Along with the rest of the state's citizens and businesses, SNET survived this disaster and went back to work. In expressing his admiration and appreciation for a job well done, Vice-President and General Manager Paul M. Zorn, in a letter to all employees dated August 25, 1955, wrote "For what has been accomplished and for what is still being done, may I say simply and sincerely - to every man and woman on the telephone team - thank you all."