Since I'm getting a huge number of hits for this story I originally posted in January of 2009, I thought I'd repost it.
During the night of October 15, 1954 Hurricane Hazel pelted Toronto with rain and killed 81 people.
Toronto residents were getting used to rain and wind. It had been raining heavily for a few days and the ground was sodden. Although the previous day’s news had included information about a hurricane named Hazel moving northward across the United States, most residents were unworried.
Hurricanes usually died-out before reaching as far inland as Toronto and the local weather office issued only a mild warning about the storm. Residents of Toronto carried on with their lives as usual, spending the rainy night at home.
But Hazel did not die out. Instead, the storm combined with a heavy, rainy weather that was moving east across the prairies. Here the storm picked up extra moisture and zigzagged crazily across the continent, making it the most erratic hurricane in history.
Three hundred million tons of water fell as Hurricane Hazel swept through Toronto. During the day and night of October 15, some areas of the city received a record amount of rain: eight inches (that’s wider than this page) or one hundred eighty millimetres fell in twenty-four hours. This rainfall, added to the already soaked ground, caused the most severe flooding recorded in Canadian history.
By the time the rains stopped, 81 people had lost their lives to the flooding. Many people were stranded as highways and bridges around the Toronto area washed out. Traffic was completely blocked for days.
The most dramatic results of the storm occurred along the Humber River and Etobicoke Creek, in Toronto's west-end. On one street alone, Raymore Drive, 35 neighbours were drowned.
Raymore Drive was a pleasant suburban street of one and two-storey cottages nestled along the river. Although the river often flooded in the springtime, there had never been a fall flood. But during Hurricane Hazel everything changed.
Water moved down the Humber River with such force that several bridges were torn from their moorings. These bridges dammed the normal flow of water and diverted the river across the floodplain close to Raymore Drive.
The floodwaters tore some houses from their pillars and swirled ever-higher around those with basements already filled with water. An eyewitness, recalls,"the homes were literally lifted off their foundations and swept away. You could hear the people screaming. Many of them were standing on top of roofs. In many cases the screaming just stopped; the homes just disintegrated, and that was the end of it."
The problem with Raymore Drive was that the houses had been built on a floodplain. The floodplain is flat low-lying land next to a river that sometimes experiences floods. Although some of the residents had seen some flooding, many didn't understand how much danger they were in.
They were faced with a split-second decision to climb onto their roofs or stay indoors. For the residents of Raymore Drive that night, that choice made an incredible difference. Thirty-two people lost their lives on their street and sixty families were left homeless.
In an effort never to repeat this tragedy, the city of Toronto turned most of its floodplain land into parks.
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