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Toronto starts to mop up after flash floods caused by record breaking storm

Posted: 07/9/2013 3:01 AM | Comments: 0

Last Modified: 07/9/2013 11:21 PM


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TORONTO — Some stayed home to deal with flooded basements, others battled long commutes on still soggy streets to make their way into work, while nearly everyone had a storm story to swap.

Toronto and the Greater Toronto Area mopped up Tuesday after a record-smashing night of pounding rain and driving wind caused flash floods, which set cars afloat, stranded rail commuters and caused widespread power outages in the region.

"It is really, probably the most intense, wettest moment in Toronto's history," Environment Canada senior climatologist David Philips told The Canadian Press.

"No infrastructure could handle this...you just have to accept the fact that you're going to be flooded."

Phillips said two separate storm cells moved over the city at the same time, and then stalled over Toronto for hours.

"It's almost like Toronto was a target with a bull's eye," he said.

The downpour left several roads and underpasses under water, forcing some people to abandon their vehicles. Subway, bus and streetcar services were either halted or slowed to a crawl, creating chaos during rush hour. Many finally arrived home hours late to deal with flooded basements and leaking windows in residences which had lost power.

In one of the more serious commuter incidents, 1,400 people were stranded on a northbound GO Transit train as murky water seeped into the cars. It took police and firefighters about seven hours to ferry everyone to dry ground aboard small inflatable boats.

The timing of the storm, which was at its worst as many were heading home from work, magnified its impact, said Phillips.

"It was bad luck, in the sense that this storm hit at the worst possible time," he said. "Right at rush hour, on a Monday afternoon, people were almost seduced into coming outside and going home, and that's when this huge rainstorm hit."

By Tuesday, the GTA was starting to dry off, but some still made the decision to stay home.

Tanya Morgado, who commutes from Mississauga, Ont., to downtown Toronto, chose to focus on her flooded basement instead of trying to make her way into work.

"I think it just needs to get gutted," she said of the finished basement in the house she moved into just last fall.

When the 25-year-old got home on Monday night, she ran downstairs — in the dark due to a loss of power — to find muddy water seeping in and rising at an alarming rate.

At its highest point, Morgado estimated about 45 centimetres of water covered her carpeted basement floors, rising higher than the electric sockets in the walls.

Her leather couches, television, surround-sound system are all damaged, but Morgado said she's trying to stay calm and remember that the situation could have been worse.

"You just kind of have to take it as it comes," she said. "One woman was telling us that the water in her mom's basement was at chest level, and hers was mixed with sewage."

The storms, which hammered the GTA, drew the attention of the prime minister, who tweeted his sympathies on Tuesday.

"Thoughts are with the people of Toronto this morning as they recover from the effects of #TOflood," said Stephen Harper.

Meanwhile, Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne thanked all those who had helped one another during Monday's flooding.

"Ontario residents have demonstrated great endurance, resilience and good humour," she said in a statement.

"Our government and its agencies remain available to affected municipalities and our Emergency Management Ontario is in contact with city officials."

In Toronto, authorities warned it would take some time for everything to return to normal, but praised city crews for their work.

"Toronto has persevered — we have weathered the storm," Mayor Rob Ford said at city hall.

"At some points it was really scary out there. I saw a few people panicking."

Ford also asked for a full review to see how the city could improve its procedures during emergencies.

While power had been restored to most areas, Ford said the system was "hanging by a thread" and urged residents to turn off all non-essential electronics in their homes.

About 70,000 customers were without electricity Tuesday night, 25,000 due to rolling blackouts. About 300,000 customers had been left in the dark at the height of the outage Monday due to "significant flooding" at two transmission stations.

One of the transmission stations remained under about six to nine metres of water, said Toronto Hydro CEO Anthony Haines.

He added that it would be "a real challenge" to get customers still without power back online, but hoped to be able to do so by early Wednesday morning. Haines urged people to help the system — which is operating beyond its capacity — by turning off local air conditioners and pool pumps.

Meanwhile, Toronto's 311 help line reported receiving about 1,000 calls about basement flooding.

Pete Karageorgos, a spokesman for the Insurance Bureau of Canada, said he suspected that insurance companies in Toronto were very busy responding to claims.

But he warned not all home insurance policies cover flooding.

"You have to have sewer back-up coverage — that is for water to enter your home through the sewers," he said. "But if you left your window open yesterday and water came rushing into your basement that wouldn't qualify, it has to be accidental and sudden."

Overland insurance coverage, or coverage for when a body of water overflows into a house, is not currently available anywhere in Canada, according to Karageorgos.

Pearson International Airport reported 126 millimetres of rain throughout Monday, breaking the previous single-day rainfall record for the city set back on Oct. 15, 1954, when hurricane Hazel dumped 121 millimetres of rain.

Phillips warns there is more rain in the forecast, although it likely won't be as intense as what he says was possibly the "storm of the century."

"We’re seeing the similar kind of heat and humidity and active and unsettled weather today and tomorrow... but not quite the chaotic and turbulent and energetic system that we saw yesterday," he said.

Environment Canada issued another warning Tuesday afternoon to southern Ontario residents of possible torrential downpours, damaging winds and large hail overnight into Wednesday morning.

But Phillips said better weather is forecast for Thursday through Sunday, "where we can maybe clean up and get back to some semblance of normality."

— with files from Joshua Learn and Jeff Mackey


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