Hurricane Hazel Personal Accounts

The McLeans—A Night to Remember

"There are two things that sneak up on you, one is old age and the other is a huge flood. In this case, it was the latter. Nelson and I were sitting in our living room watching TV when, suddenly, the screen went blank. I went outside to see if the aerial had blown off the roof, but when I stepped out the door, there was a calmness, a stillness in the air, much like after a storm. As we couldn't watch our favourite programs on TV, and since the storm appeared to be over, we retired for the night, unaware of the terrible events that were soon to unfold.

"We were awakened at 1:00 a.m. by loud banging on our window and someone shouting, 'Get out!, Get out!'. We went out to take a look at what was going on and were surprised to see water in the front and backyard running fast and deep, and people yelling, 'Get out, there's a flood!'.

"We quickly threw winter suits and a blanket on our babies. I managed to get into only a slip and skirt, while Nelson got his hip-boots on and a jacket over his pajamas. We stuffed blankets into the bath to keep the water out; this all took place in less than five minutes. I didn't have time to rescue any valuable items, but managed to grab the babies' bottle-sterilizer, but then discovered there were no bottles in it.

"We slipped out the back door and stepped into waist deep water, where two burly firemen took our babies, tied ropes around our waists, steered us to another rope that enabled us to climb up the muddy embankment to safety.

"From there, we were where we could see the two-storey Scarlett Road Hotel, with the floodwater running through the upper windows and out through the back. The most pathetic and heart-rending sight we saw were the cars floating by with people clinging desperately on top crying out for help.

"Other people were halfway up hydro poles waiting to be rescued, but before long, the surging waters claimed them.

"On that night of terror and death, a radio news announcer, in a casual voice, mentioned that there was flooding on Toronto's west side, and that people who owned a motorboat could assist in the rescue operation.

"Five minutes later came another announcement that only boats of 20 horsepower would be needed. Five more minutes went by and again an announcement that now it had to be boats of 50 horsepower. The last request was for boats having 100 horsepower motors, the only size that could navigate the seething, tumbling, fast-flowing water. The requests for help from boat owners, I have to say in hindsight, today seems rather comical.

"A new steel bridge over Black Creek, a block from our house, stopped several houses from being carried out into Lake Ontario. It was so sad to look into their upper rooms and see all the possessions destined to be lost forever. Roofs were gone and there were big holes in buildings' sides. The houses had floated down from Raymore Drive, where so many had drowned.

"Our street was a circular one, with all new houses on it, and those homes that formed a circle in the centre became an island, trapping the families on the rooftops. Those who tried to swim to safety never made it.

"Not far from the hotel, a hook and ladder firetruck, with a full complement of five volunteer firemen was swallowed up by the raging waters. It wasn't until 35 years later that the truck was found at the bottom of Lake Ontario, some four or five miles from where it went under.

"The power of the floodwater was so great, the pressure it exerted forced many furnaces right up through the roofs of the houses. After the flood waters abated, and we were able to come back to where we lived, we were stunned at what our eyes took in. Where Nelson had parked his truck on the road, the water had eroded the gravel base and the soil underneath—our truck was sitting some 20 feet down in a great pit. What saved it from being carried away like so many other vehicles was the weight of steel loaded into the back.

"What stands out in my memory, along with all the other horrible things we witnessed, was the silt or clay that covered and penetrated everything. It was in the motor, the brakes, and much later I even found it in the joints in whatever furniture we could still use.

"Directly behind the hotel was the Islington Golf Course. When all the little pools of water drained away two days later, a brother-in-law, who was a Toronto fireman, was one of many volunteers who walked around the golf course, with shovels in hand, digging in the silt for bodies."

© 2004 — Walkerville Publishing — All Rights Reserved

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