Hurricane Diane might not have caused so much damage had Hurricane Connie not struck a few days earlier.
But Hurricane Diane was bad — almost as bad as Hurricane Carol, which hammered New England the year before.
Connie brought 4-6 inches of rainfall to New England on Aug. 11 and 12, 1955, saturating the ground. Then on Aug. 17, 1955, came the very wet, very windy Diane. In some places Diane dumped 20 inches of rain in two days.
Hurricane Diane affected the entire East Coast from North Carolina to Massachusetts. More than 100,000 New Englanders lost their jobs, as flooded mills and factories had to shut their doors in Diane’s wake. The hurricane injured 7,000 New Englanders and killed more than 100 people.
Connecticut got hit the hardest. Near Torrington, Conn., a weather station recorded 16.86 inches of rain within 24 hours, the highest in the state’s history.
Diane split the state in two as it swept away bridges and severed communications. It cost nearly 86,000 Connecticut workers their jobs.
Connecticut lost 77 people of the 180 people killed as a result of Diane. Gov. Abraham Ribicoff called it ‘the worst disaster in the state’s history.’ It was at least the worst flood in the state’s history.
Main Street in Winsted, Conn., was nearly wiped out. A Connecticut National guardsman flew over in a helicopter and said it looked like someone had taken cars and thrown them against each other, the Hartford Courant reported.
A guardsman spotted a house floating down the river, complete with lawn and landscaping. Another house floated by with smoke curling out of the chimney.
The Still River flooded the struggling Gilbert Clock Co., and forced it to close its doors for good. The local newspaper reported Hurricane Diane destroyed or severely damaged 95 percent of Winsted businesses.
In the flooded town of Putnam, Conn., Diane set fire to, then collapsed, a magnesium processing facility. As dawn broke, hundreds of barrels of burning magnesium drifted along the streets before exploding.
In Waterbury, 26 people died when Diane washed away 13 houses in one neighborhood.
Elsewhere in New England
The hurricane washed out the Horseshoe Dam in Woonsocket, R.I., dislodging coffins from historic cemeteries. It also damaged wire and rubber factories, throwing 6,000 of Woonsocket’s 50,000 residents out of work. The Blackstone River swelled to a width of a mile.
In Massachusetts, Hurricane Diane washed away the historic Old North Bridge over the Concord River. Thirteen people were killed, mostly by drowning. In Worcester, Hurricane Diane destroyed flooded shoe factories and threw 10,000 workers out of their jobs. The hurricane’s rains flooded the Longmeadow cricket courts, delaying the Davis Cup.
Eight states were declared federal disaster areas. National guardsmen dropped food to stranded flood victims from C-47 airplanes. Guardsmen in helicopters plucked people off of roofs and out of trees. Donations to help the victims came from around the world.
Never again would a hurricane be named Diane.
In 1956, Congress passed the Federal Flood Insurance Act, creating federal flood insurance, but didn’t fund it. A national flood program would have to wait until 1968. Hurricane Diane also led to the creation of the National Hurricane Center.
To see a youtube video of the rescue operations after the flooding from Hurricane Diane, click here.
This story was updated in 2020.