Hurricane Hazel - 50 years later October 1954 Hurricane Hazel


Hurricane Hazel Personal Accounts

Addy and Auke Ellens survive the Holland Marsh

Those who experienced the wrath of Hurricane Hazel will never forget the worst storm in Ontario's history, a storm which left the lush gardens of the Holland Marsh covered with dirty water. The west side of the marsh received up to10 feet of the deluge because the dikes broke in several places, and Highway 400 acted as a dike separating the east and west sides. The weeks before had been wet, and the fields had already reached the saturation point. Friday began as had many days previous-with rain, except this rain fell steadily; heavier until it became a cloudburst. Statistics later indicated that seven inches fell on that fateful Friday. However, the sky did clear for about half an hour, around 11:00 a.m. I believe this was the end of the rain and the beginning of the hurricane.

By suppertime, word spread that the dikes would not be able to hold back the rush of water pouring in from the highland. Men and boys filled sandbags to raise the dike. This was soon seen as useless, and most thought the water would come over the dike, but that it would not exceed the main floor of their homes. Our grocery store was in the middle of the marsh, and that makes it similar to the centre of a saucer-in the lowest part, in other words. Therefore, we began to move the groceries from the lower shelves up to the higher shelves. Then we left the store and Auke attempted to drive his truck to the canal dike, as most others had done, but it kept stalling, so he finally left it and walked to my parents' home down the road from the store. My Dad had opened the trap door in the floor of the house to allow the water to come in so that the house would not float away. Then we (my mother, father, brother Leon and Auke) went upstairs to wait out the storm. We had earlier moved keepsakes upstairs and lifted furniture up on crates, so it was off the floor.

Around 11:00 p.m., the rain slowed down and the wind stilled. Dad called us outside to the front porch. The water was all around us and we could hear it falling over the dike. He said, "You are standing in the eye of the storm. Soon the wind will rise from the opposite direction and the rain will fall as heavily as before." He was so right; after that brief respite, the storm returned as savage as before. Before the water reached the telephone downstairs in the front hall, we tried to call a neighbour who lived along the dike to hear how things were, knowing the worst would be better than not knowing anything! We could not get through-the telephone was no longer working.

Then began a long night of howling winds and driving rain. I wondered if we could survive if the water chased us out onto the roof. We watched at the windows and soon saw a strange site. There came, as if it were a ghost ship, a house approaching, riding the waves. It was clearly visible because it was so near and white. It hit the barn, and then swerved and crashed into the greenhouse, caught on something and whirled around, passing our house and getting caught in the hydro wires, where it stopped. We did not know if the family was in the house or not. After we were rescued, we found out that they had left early that evening, but we were also told that the De Peuter family had travelled to Highway 400 in their house!

As the night wore on, the water seemed to stop rising, and the wind and rain were not so noisy. Mother read to us from the Bible and we prayed. Some of the passages I remember were from the Psalms 46, 100 and 102.

In the morning, brave men from Bradford came in small boats to rescue us. We had a flat roof over part of the house that served as a dock. We left home with the clothes we wore and I took the sweater I was knitting. As we passed the store in the boat, we saw that the front windows were broken, and later we saw the truck where Auke had left it when it stalled. It was completely under water. What sad sights met us all along that memorable ride. When we finally reached the safety of the dike, we were met by those who were rescued earlier.

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