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Connecticut Farmington River Flood of 1955 | The Nightmare That Was True

8:30. We heard it. Stepping through the living room door onto the front porch, I began to yell and wave frantically at the amphibious craft touring the area not a hundred yards away from us. My mother called. Her voice grew hoarse. The wind grabbed the words from our mouths as they were shouted. My throat stung, my heart pounded. We were neither seen nor heard. The wind, the rushing water, and the thick foliage of the elm-lined street silenced and obscured our presence. The rain beat down.

From our kitchen window, we had an unhampered view of the river, until now hidden by the shed, catalpa trees, and weeping willows that had stood 100 years. They were all  gone. Ferocious, boiling waves raced eastward. Bits of chairs, beds, roofs, whole washing machines, hope chests charged along with the current. All the time the rain came down, a hazy curtain of water billowing with the wind.

As we stood in the old-fashioned kitchen with its towering, old, grey oil stove, and slightly sloping floor, we looked out on the river. It had been just a creek, gliding indigently through towns and valleys. Although it threaded its way right through the center of Unionville, Connecticut, it never interrupted life. Bridges tied the town together and you almost were able to ignore the river, if you chose.

Suddenly, from our kitchen watch, we saw the downstairs left wing of the house rise up, turn slightly on its side, splinter and sink away into the boiling confusion. Then there was a shudder, a wrench, and our bathroom and the annex below were gone. A doorless sill now afforded a still more panoramic view of the river.

We went into the living room on the street side of the house. A corner room, it, too, permitted a good view of the moving spectacle outside, but here the “street” water, slowed by houses and trees still standing, did not look quite so ominous. It was misleading.

Curled up tightly in a chair by the window, I stared hypnotically at the debris clinging to trees. Then terror such as I had never before known gripped me. Soundlessly, a house up the street suddenly splintered and fell away to nothing. For a second it made one last attempt to survive, seeming to clutch at its telephone wires as if they were life lines. They, too, went down.

When the water began to rise from the living room floor, we went up to the attic. Piled on the table, chests, and boxes were many things that recalled other days. But we had little chance to think of those days. The time had come. There was a tremor, a chilling shudder of the old house, and we were sinking into the murky, black depths.

The next thing we knew, we were still sitting on the bed by the attic wall. Although slumped to one side, the room was still one. Flat against the attic window was the roof of the house next door. ‘We sat still and waited.

After awhile, we groped our way down the stairs, now tilted back at an almost impossible angle. Chinks of plaster had fallen in the living room, leaving gaping, jagged mouths in the walls. About 12 inches of water was in the room. The water was brown and cold as we stepped into it.

Leaning through the doorway to the porch, I saw that the other side of the house had sunk several feet. Our side still seemed almost upright. The big house on the right had moved into ours, causing ours to leave its foundation and move into the one on our left.

At last the rain stopped. Whenever the wind caught its breath, we became aware of the whir of helicopters overhead. Were they photographing the disaster area or were they rescuing the people. A small measure hope returned.

10:30. 11:30. No sign of help from the air or anywhere.  The water ceased to rise, but did not fall.  The danger was far from over. We had to do something.

The porch held. For many minutes we vigorously waved the living room curtains back and forth out over the railing as far as we could reach.  Through the eye level foliage of the street, we saw the man.  He was more than a few hundred yards away. If only we could get his attention!  Just when it seemed utterly hopeless, someone began flashing a mirror. We had been seen!

After nine hours of anguish, our relief was short lived.  One by one a number of tremors shook the house. Plaster fell, followed by a crackling as of thunder. Through the living room door to the attic came light.  When the trembling stopped, we went to the attic door and looked up into the sky. The roof had split open.

The next two hours seemed as long as the preceding nine.  Intermittently, the tremors continued. Would help ever come?

Updated Wednesday, March 12th, 2014

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