After a week of rain, a 5-inch downpour on October 14-15 raised the Willimantic River's height on Saturday, October 15, to 13.5 feet (flood warning stage is at 6.5 feet). People flocked to the river to watch water surge over dams, bridges and low lying land. The following photos record amazing scenes along the river during this flood event (designated as a 50-year event). As flood waters rose, the river swept away all "floatables" in its path, such as trees, sheds, lumber, and picnic tables, leaving them stranded on riverbanks downstream when the water subsided on Sunday. Sand and rocks on the river bottom were moved to new locations, changing the course of the river in some places.
Stafford Springs escaped major flooding thanks to flood control dams upstream, but the flood surges in the Middle River and Furnace Brook barely remained within the town's stone-sided stream channels. Where these tributaries came together at the headwaters of the Willimantic River just south of the town, the combined waters surged over Route 32 and the AMF Cuno factory parking lot.
Three trailers (minus the truck cabs) were washed downriver from the Cuno factory about a mile and a half. A 40-foot and 20-foot trailer were lodged against a railroad trestle on the Ellington/Willington line. Another 40-foot trailer was stranded about 50 yards below the bridge. Two were empty and one contained paper products. Removing the trailers from the river was one of the major challenges of the cleanup effort. Special equipment designed to remove derailed railroad cars was borrowed from Conrail and brought from Albany to lift the trailers out of the river and onto the bank where they could moved back to the factory.
The river poured over Eagleville Dam, and blue barrels from somewhere upstream bounced in the falls. Just downstream of Eagleville Dam, the flood’s high water surged over the Route 275 bridge, which was closed for a day to assess whether the bridge had sustained enough damage to need repairs. The bridge reopened the next day. The Route 44 bridge in Mansfield Depot was also closed for a day because flooding had undermined part of the east end of the bridge. The high water almost covered other bridges along the river. Usually there was only a foot or two of clearance below the bridges at the height of the flood.
October 15, 2005, 2pm
Photos courtesy of Vicky Wetherell.
The combined flood waters of the river and all of its tributaries roared past Windham Mills in downtown Willimantic. The former mill dams were barely visible under so much water, and huge waves surged over the edge of Windham Mills State Heritage Park. Floodwaters washed into the Art Space gallery on the lower level of one of the old mill buildings. Between the park and the gallery, the high water almost reached the deck of a stone-arch bridge, one of two in town that have survived floods since the mid-1800's.
October 15, 2005, 5-6pm, as the river was cresting
Photos courtesy of Dagmar S. Noll