NAUGATUCK, Conn. (WTNH) — It was one of the worst natural disasters in Connecticut history. On August 19, 1955, dangerous flood waters from the Naugatuck River rose extremely high, swallowing parts of downtown and destroying homes, buildings and bridges in cities and towns along the Naugatuck River basin.
It caused more than $200 million in damage and killed 87 people.
“Over a dozen houses got washed away (in Waterbury),” said Kevin Zak, whose family in Waterbury survived The Great Flood. “They floated by my house. There were actually people on top of the roofs that needed to be rescued.”
Naugatuck’s current mayor needed to be rescued that day, too. Pete Hess was seven years old when the flood waters rose outside his family’s home.
Mayor Hess took News8 to his childhood home to explain how he jumped to safety when he was a kid.
“The water was higher than the first floor windows,” Mayor Hess said. “We came out of the windows into a boat.”
The mayor says lessons were learned because of The Great Flood and several measures have been taken since to better protect cities and towns in the Naugatuck River basin to better control and manage the water flow.
The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers has built local flood control projects in Waterbury, Torrington, Ansonia, and Derby. There are also flood control dams in Thomaston, Torrington, Naugatuck, Plymouth, Litchfield, and Harwinton all managed by the cities and towns.
They’re all built so that history never repeats itself.
“We can never let something like this happen again,” said Mayor Hess. “I think we’ve done a good job with flood management. I think the Army Corps has done a great job. And the Naugatuck Valley is protected today.”