Saturday 15 October 2011

Hurricane Hazel

On this day in 1954 my teenaged Mom hung her head after her father told her she could not attend her Oshawa high school dance due to the approaching storm.  My Dad, 21 at the time, was let out of the new Ford plant early due to the inclement weather and slowly made his way home to Toronto, the wipers flying furiously back and forth on the windshield of his workmate's car.  My father-in-law, also 21, a new Canadian immigrant, struggled to move furniture into the new Hamilton home that he purchased with his brother as the wind off of Lake Ontario threatened to whip the screen door off.

Hurricane Hazel, which first hit Haiti and then carved a 200-wide path of destruction up the eastern seaboard of the United States, was about to hit Canada with a vengeance.  Not accustomed to hurricanes, Southern Ontario forecasters were downplaying the storm.  However, 200 millimetres of rain hit the Toronto area in only 24 hours, washing out 20 bridges as winds reached 110 kilometres per hour.  The Humber River swelled to overflowing, sucking up 32 houses on Raymore Drive alone.  One resident grabbed his wife and baby and escaped over a swinging bridge, only to see it wash away only minutes later.  Police warned that the river's current was so strong that boats should not be launched on it.  One rooftop held 23 people for hours until they were rescued by a helicopter.  The Canadian Army was called in to assist with search and rescue operations.

North of Toronto on the Holland Marsh, a large family named De Peuter used their house as a life raft as they drifted all over the farmland, now a lake bobbing with cabbages and carrots, finally coming to a standstill hours later when winds subsided.  In Southern Ontario, Hurricane Hazel left 4000 people homeless, killed 81 souls and left residents with a 100 million dollar bill.  Toronto's Raymore Drive was declared a reserve, no longer a residential area.  Clean up crews drained the Holland Marsh in November of 1954, many tons of produce lost. 

My Mom soon forgot about her high school dance which was cancelled anyway.  My Dad make it home safely to Toronto, although he took a detour due to a washed out bridge.  My father-in-law headed down to Hamilton Harbour the following morning where he saw giant rocks washed up on shore.  Canadians would not soon forget the name Hazel. 

Photo courtessy

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