Hurricane Hazel Personal Accounts

J.R. McFadden assists with recovery—setting up a central morgue

J.R. McFadden described the role he played in the clean-up after Hazel to Betty Kennedy:

"A voice on the car radio was asking for volunteers to go to the Etobicoke Police Station. As soon as we stepped into the line for volunteers, we were selected out of line and taken to the coroner's office. My friend was wearing a medical jacket from the University of Toronto and was asked if he was in medical school and if he had done his work on cadavers yet. His positive response evoked a request from the coroner and the chief of police, Andy Hamilton, that we set up a central morgue on the second floor of the old fire department, on the north side of Dundas Street, just west of Burnhamthorpe Road.

"The second floor was roughly divided down the middle by portable dividers. The entrance, which was at the back, was to be used for incoming and outgoing bodies, as well as those coming to try and identify their loved ones. As you entered the area, the Salvation Army people were doing an outstanding job of assisting the distraught people in search of their loved ones. Behind the partition, the now Dr. Elliot Baker and I were accepting the incoming bodies. Our job of setting up and administering the morgue turned out to be one of cleaning the bodies as best as we could and searching for some identification. We would then write a brief description of the body and where it was found, tag the toe, and give the description to the Salvation Army. Here, behind the partition, we had three rows of bodies—men, women and children—in order of age. Each body was covered with a blanket.

"It was obvious to us that many of these people had been swept away in the night, as they were still in their pyjamas, and apparently had no chance at all of surviving.

"Our most upsetting experience was setting one of our former public school janitors, a volunteer fireman, brought in after having been killed trying to save the lives of others. We had known this man well and admired him for many years. We knew well his involvement with the volunteer fire department, as many times, when the old firebell behind the school would ring, we would see him run across the school yard to fulfill his obligation.

"I remember one kind gentleman who came in to identify an old retired employee, who had no family and had lived on Raymore Drive. The employer simply wanted to give his former friend a dignified burial.

"I have often wondered how many of those ill-fated people might have survived if they had not gone back to gather some personal possession, which some of them were still clutching."

Hurricane Hazel, Betty Kennedy, 1979; p. 125-126

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