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Hurricane Hazel - October 15, 1954

Hurricane Hazel hit Toronto on October 15, 1954, when the city had a population of over one million people. During the storm, winds reached 124 km/h and over 200 mm of rain fell in just 24 hours. This horrific storm left 81 Torontonians dead, nearly 1,900 families homeless and caused over $25 million in damages. Throughout the city, 20 bridges were destroyed or damaged beyond repair. According to a Royal Commission that studied the effects of the hurricane, the total estimated cost of the disaster was $100 million in 1954; that would translate into over $1 billion today.

At its worst, Hurricane Hazel was a category 4 storm on the Saffir-Simpson scale, but the storm was downgraded from a hurricane to an extratropical cyclone as it moved over Lake Ontario. However, slightly more people died in Canada than in the United States from this storm (100 in Canada, 95 in the United States), perhaps because Canadians were less prepared to deal with a hurricane. A hurricane was a rare event in these parts -- during the first 50 years of the 20th century, of the more than 350 hurricanes to have been noticed in the western Atlantic region, only 25 had even the slightest effect on Canada.

The record rainfall of this storm (over 200 mm in 24 hours) was unable to be absorbed by the ground due to the above-average rainfall received the previous month and the already saturated water table.

Photograph of soldiers clearing debris left by Hurricane Hazel from a piece of land with help from a tank, November 1954

Source

The Canadian Army clears away debris left by Hurricane Hazel, Toronto, November 1954

Memories from survivors of the storm give a sense of the destruction caused by the hurricane. Survivors remember mobile homes floating down the Humber River, pots and pans bouncing off their shelves, and people screaming for help. Rescuers were sometimes unable to do anything because they were trapped inside their vehicles. One survivor remembered flashes as hydro lines snapped and fell into the river. Others tell of homes that were knocked off their foundations, cars being flooded with silt, and roots and debris everywhere. The army was called in for "Operation Search"; they found bodies in brush and weeds, in shattered houses and buried deep in mud.

The storm brought out the best of community spirit in many. For two weeks, service clubs and women's organizations provided thousands of meals for the homeless and for rescue workers. People also donated generously to a "flood fund". Further, the hurricane brought about the funding and development of the Metropolitan Toronto and Region Conservation Authority, whose mandate was to help prepare citizens for any future flood disasters.

Newspaper article: 54 DIE; 69 LOST