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Hurricane Hazel - Evaluation of Organizational Response

Fred Turnbull stated in the Hurricane Hazel Report by the Weather Office that, “I am sure many since the major disaster of last Friday have asked, ‘Why did it happen?’ There no doubt are many, too, like myself, who have, in attempting to answer that question, at least to ourselves, in private soul-searching, asked, ‘What could I have done which might have prevented the tragedy?’

Survey of Flooding
Survey of Flooding

“From the meteorological standpoint, it seems to me that every possible step was taken and taken in adequate time. It may be argued that we did not sufficiently stress the amount of rain, but even if we had been able to forecast Malton’s 5.3 inches of rain in terms of definite figures expressed in inches, I wonder how many, if any, would have interpreted a five-inch rainfall as a disastrous amount. Certainly, I was fully aware that rainfall totals were likely to exceed the all-time record of four inches, but I definitely did not have sufficient knowledge of the Humber watershed or sufficient imagination to interpret that amount of rain in terms of the tragic flood conditions.” (Kennedy, 1979; p. 42-43)

Transport Minister Marler commended weather forecasters for averting a worse disaster through their accurate and timely warnings. “While loss of life and property have been great, there is no doubt that the catastrophe would have been much more extensive had it not been for the accurate timely and very emphatic warnings…by the Malton forecast office of the department’s meteorological service.”

John Knox, a forecaster with the Meteorological Service at the time of Hurricane Hazel, presented a report on Hurricane Hazel at a Symposium in 1992:

“How well were the public warned? More than 24 hours prior to the event, on Thursday evening, well before Hazel had reached the South Carolina coast, the Ontario Weather Centre predicted, that because of the northward progress of Hazel, substantial rain, additional to what had already fallen, would reach Toronto late the following day. This forecast was reinforced on the night shift on the basis of what turned out to be an extraordinarily accurate prognostic chart by Norman Grundy. He predicted that Hazel’s centre would accelerate northward and reach western Lake Ontario that evening, and issued a forecast indicating strong winds and heavy precipitation by that time. I relieved Norman at 8 a.m. and he had no trouble convincing our boss Fred Turnbull, and myself that we had a very dangerous storm on our hands. In fact the atmosphere of the Office was really charged, and it’s curious how one remembers the details of circumstances such as these, decades after the event. After analyzing the 1230z chart it was clear that a warning should be issued. It went out at 10 a.m. and we really laid it on the line, winds increasing to 40 miles per hour gusting to 70 miles per hour, and moderate to heavy rain beginning over Metro Toronto that afternoon and continuing into the evening. This warning was promptly disseminated by the newspapers and the radio and TV stations. Fred Turnbull, after consultation with yourself, Pat, as to how best to proceed, personally phoned every agency who might conceivably be concerned. These included Fred Gardiner, who was Metro Toronto Chairman at the time, Ontario Hydro, other provincial government agencies who might be involved in river monitoring and control, Lake Shipping interests and, to make sure they had received the warning, the press, radio and TV stations.

“In spite of all this, there still remained people, who, during anniversaries marking the tragedy, poor-mouth the weather forecasts, and allege there was insufficient warning. For example, Betty Kennedy, in her interesting, and otherwise well-researched account of the tragedy, tells the reader that the warning was “low-key”, and regarded by some as “the best kept secret in town.” Nothing could be further from the truth.” (Knox, 1992)

Agriculture Minister Thomas said, “Surely these rains and floods will teach us the urgency of more flood control measures being taken and the need for erection of small dams in all ‘flood danger’ areas.” (GM, October 18, 1954)

Survey of River Flooding
Survey of River Flooding

Major-General Frank F. Worthington, Canada’s Civil Defence Coordinator, felt people died who could have lived and property was lost that could have been saved. “Everyone did his best, but I can’t help reflecting: What a shameful waste of life and property. It needn’t have happened.

“If there had been any kind of civil defence organization trained and equipped, it could easily have been mobilized and it would have filled the breech.” (GM, October 18, 1954)

Worthington praised in his assessment of the response to Hurricane Hazel: the courage and ingenuity of individuals and organizations; the speed and efficiency of the Red Cross, Salvation Army and other response organizations; and the tireless enthusiasm of civic officials and employees for aid. Worthington criticized the lack of adequate warning and enforcement of warnings; the lack of advance preparation; and the general disorganization of motor traffic which lasted days after the flood. Worthington’s recommendations included the immediate formation of civil defence units supplemented with training and equipment and the recruitment and training of extra policemen by municipalities. “We’ve been doing a lot of talking about civil defence and we’ve heard a lot of talking. What happened during the floods talks for itself.” (GM, October 18, 1954)


A Royal Commission was formed by the Federal Government to assess the cost of Hazel and included John B. Carswell, the former Chairman of the Fraser River Dyking Board, and D. Bruce Shaw, of a Toronto bonding company. The two-person committee found that the cost was less than $100,000,000, with between $10,000,000 and $12,000,000 reflecting damage to personal belongings and household effects. The total damage estimate includes soil erosion and other related effects of a flood of this magnitude.

The actual cost from Hazel is difficult to estimate, as it depends on the costs that are included and the people that are conducting the assessment. The lowest estimate of cost for damage to personal belongings, household effects, and structural damage listed in the Royal Commission Report was $25,000,000, which increased to nearly $100,000,000 when considering longer term impacts. The Royal Commission was convened just weeks after the disaster limiting the number of costs that could be included in their estimate and affecting the accuracy of the assessment by failing to provide for longer term effects.

The Department of Public Safety and Emergency Preparedness Canada compiled disaster statistics for all of Canada and estimated the modern day cost of Hurricane Hazel at $1,031,643,000. The present assessment of Hurricane Hazel considers longer term economic disruption, the cost of lost property, relocation, and recovery costs and portrays a more accurate estimate of the actual impact of the storm in Southern Ontario.

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