(There's a suggestion that Tropical Storm Nicole may push Hurricane Mathew back to Florida. That's a real possibility -- it's happened before, although much farther north and west. This repost is about the events of Oct. 15, 1954.)


"For Lake Ontario and Niagara regions, Toronto and Hamilton cities: Rain tonight. Cloudy, with occasional showers Saturday. Little change in temperature. Winds north 40 to 50 mph (64 to 80 km/h) this evening, decreasing overnight to northwest 30 mph on Saturday."
                         -- Part of the Dominion Weather Office forecast for Oct. 15, 1954.  

     Hazel was born a stone killer.
     By the time she made landfall in the Carolinas, she'd already devasted Haiti and the Bahamas, leaving more than 1,000 dead in her wake.
     She then destroyed Garden City, S.C., with a storm surge of 15 feet, ruining all but two of 275 homes, and killed another 100 people as she moved rapidly north.
     Hazel appeared to be petering out, until running into two weather systems that drove her west and then north again, heading out over Lake Ontario in a path that no known hurricane -- even one that was losing power -- had ever been known to take.
     She was supposed to pass east of Toronto, or so said the then Dominion Weather Office, which told unwitting residents to expect "rain tonight".
     But Hazel didn't pass east.
     On Oct. 15, 1954, with sub-hurricane winds of 70 mph, Hazel dumped as much as 300 million tons of water on the city and a watershed already sodden from a week or more of rain.
     The result was catastrophic. That night, without warning, the area's rivers -- especially the Humber -- became raging torrents, overflowing banks, washing out bridges, sweeping away vehicles and structures built on floodplains, killing at least 81 people and leaving nearly 2,000 families homeless in Toronto alone. Damage in today's figures was more than $1 billion.
     Hazel was Toronto's Katrina.
                                                           * * *
     The eyewitness accounts are chilling, even in a jaded world.
     Toronto Telegram reporter-photographer Val Sears snapped what would be a dramatic six-column, above-the-fold, front-page photo of an exhausted police officer being pulled from the Humber by a rope around his waist. His effort to save an elderly man who had been clinging to a shrub had been in vain.
     Not far away, a fire truck and crew trying to rescue a stranded motorist were overtaken by the fast-rising waters. The eight volunteer firefighters solemnly shook hands ... and were swept away; miraculously, three survived. (Sears would later recall visiting the Etobicoke fire chief, and seeing on his office wall an axe recovered from the mud where the doomed ladder truck had disappeared.)
     Sears then checked in with the newsroom, and was sent to Raymore Drive, which was known to be in the rampaging Humber's path. He never found it -- the entire street had disappeared, along with its inhabitants and structures.
     The army was called in to help, but there was little to do until the flooding had abated.
     Bodies were later recovered from high up in trees and buried deep in the mud and silt; others washed up in New York State weeks later. One reporter stopped to pick up what she at first thought was a doll, only to discover it was a dead infant.
     North, where much of the rain fell, the diked and drained Holland Marsh -- the market garden for Toronto -- once more became an inland lake. Highway 400, which ran through the area, was 10 feet under water, and 3,000 residents were evacuated. Harvested crops were lost, as pumps were choked with debris and failed.
                                                            * * *
     Hazel was one of the worst natural disasters in Canadian history, but some good was to come of the death and suffering and destruction.
     The country came together in an unprecedented relief effort that raised millions of dollars, while civic and religious organisations pitched in to supply food, shelter and clothing.
     The post mortem led to the development of "Hurricane Hazel Standards", which banned structures on floodplains in Ontario. Dams and artificial lakes were built to control some of the worst water courses around the province.
     In Toronto itself, the devastated areas were turned into interconnected parks and green spaces, now home to all kinds of wildlife. It's perhaps the largest urban system of its kind in the world.
     New and better pumping equipment was installed in the Holland Marsh; within a year, the fields were once more drained and crops replanted.  
     And out of respect for those who died in the Caribbean, the United States and Canada, there will never again be a Hurricane Hazel.

 

 

                                                        (Library and Archives Canada photos)
 
Sources:
Sears, Val: "Hello, Sweetheart ... Get Me Rewrite".
www.hurricanehazel.ca
Environment Canada synopsis
Library and Archives Canada

Views: 93

Comment by koshersalaami on October 10, 2016 at 2:29pm

Never heard this story. I was fourteen days old and living in the Panama Canal Zone. Sounds unbelievably awful.

Comment by Zanelle on October 10, 2016 at 2:32pm

Wow,  I was too young then to remember but it is just a trick of the journey when a hurricane turns inward.  We have them take odd turns here in Hawaii too but mostly they are deflected by the two volcanoes.   It also seems to me they are getting more fierce.   The hot is getting hotter and the cold is getting colder and they will collide in superstorms...just pray they dont make landfall.  Good reminder what can happen...

Comment by JMac1949 Today on October 10, 2016 at 2:35pm

R&L, I believe that in the 1950's there was a major North Sea storm that killed thousands and ravaged England and Northern Europe.

Comment by Jonathan Wolfman on October 10, 2016 at 3:39pm

I recall Hazel; I was 5; she felled two willows in our yard.

Comment by nerd cred on October 10, 2016 at 5:37pm

I had no idea a hurricane could travel that far from the ocean. Amazing.

Comment by M. C. Sears on October 10, 2016 at 8:28pm

Before my time, but I recall my dad saying that troopers swept the Humber for dead.

Comment by Boanerges on October 11, 2016 at 6:48am

I was seven at the time, Kosh, and I only dimly remember the events. It was a tragedy.

Zanelle, I don't know if storms are increasing in frequency and intensity -- some say yes, others say no. I do know I don't want to be anywhere nearby when they hit.

I sort of recall that too, JMac.

We were living about 125 miles west of Toronto back then, Jon. It must have been brutal.

Think it's still pretty much unprecedented, Nerd.

The small photo above shows soldiers doing exactly that, MC. Must have been difficult given they were wearing wool battle dress and heavy boots -- and given what they were finding.

Comment by Boanerges on October 11, 2016 at 2:21pm

Right you are, SB -- in Ma Nature's great scheme, we're insignificant. A tornado ripped through this area three or four years back, and a couple of weeks ago, the city where I used to live had to declare itself a disaster (well, even more than usual) after more than a month's rain fell in three days, wreaking havoc. It weren't pretty, and I was very grateful not to be living any closer than I was.

Comment by Myriad on October 14, 2016 at 10:59am

Holy god - I vaguely remember Hazel but not the horrors...

Comment by Boanerges on October 15, 2016 at 6:59am

I was pretty much in the same boat as you, Myriad, but during my wandering career,  I kept hearing about "Hurricane Hazel Standards" and read up about it. Chilling....

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