|Category 4 hurricane (SSHS)|
The Weston Golf Club was left submerged after the Humber River burst its banks during Hurricane Hazel.
|Formed||October 5, 1954|
|Dissipated||October 18, 1954|
|Lowest pressure||≤ 937 mbar (hPa; 27.67 inHg)|
|Damage||$408 million (1954 USD)
$3.2 billion (2010 USD)
|Grenada, Haiti, Bahamas, South Carolina, North Carolina, Virginia, West Virginia, Maryland, Pennsylvania, New York, Ontario|
|Part of the
1954 Atlantic hurricane season
Hurricane Hazel was the deadliest and costliest hurricane of the 1954 Atlantic hurricane season, and one of the deadliest and costliest storms of the 20th century. The hurricane killed as many as 1,000 people in Haiti before striking the United States near the border between North and South Carolina, as a Category 4 hurricane. After causing 95 fatalities in the US, Hazel struck Canada as an extratropical storm, raising the death toll by 81 people, mostly in Toronto. As a result of its damaging effects and high death toll, its name was retired and will never again be used for a hurricane in the North Atlantic basin.
In Haiti, Hazel destroyed 40% of the coffee trees and 50% of the cacao crop, affecting the economy for several years to come. The hurricane made landfall in the Carolinas, and destroyed most of waterfront dwellings near the point of impact. On its way towards Canada, it passed through several more states, including Delaware, Maryland, New Jersey, New York, Pennsylvania, Virginia, and West Virginia, bringing wind gusts near 160 km/h (99 mph) and causing $308 million (1954 USD) in damages. When Hazel came to Ontario, rivers and streams passing through the Greater Toronto Area overflowed their banks, causing severe flooding. As a result, many residential areas located in floodplains, such as the Raymore Drive area, were subsequently converted to parkland. In Canada alone, over C$135 million (2009: $1.1 billion) of damage was incurred.
Hazel was particularly destructive in Toronto because of a combination of a lack of experience of dealing with tropical storms, and the storm's unexpected retention of power. Hazel had traveled 1,100 km (680 mi) over land, but when it approaching Canada, it had merged with an existing powerful cold front. The storm stalled over the Greater Toronto Area, and although it was now extratropical, it remained as powerful as a category 1 hurricane. To help with the cleanup, 800 members of the military were summoned and a Hurricane Relief Fund was established that distributed $5.1 million (2009: $41.7 million) in aid.
In early October 1954, a tropical wave moved off the coast of Africa and was spotted on October 5, roughly 80 km (50 mi) east of the island of Grenada. Sufficiently organized to be deemed a hurricane, the original hurricane hunter 137 km/h (85 mph) measurement of the wind soon increased to 160 km/h (99 mph) at the centre, with a forward speed of 23 km/h (14 mph). Hazel moved west and intensified from October 6 to October 9 in the Caribbean Sea without directly striking any land; at one point, it was moving "practically parallel" to the Venezuelan coast. After continuing on a westward track, it turned sharply to the north-northeast, to take aim for Haiti instead of Jamaica, contrary to meteorologists' predictions. As a whole, the storm proved to be very unpredictable, defying forecasts on multiple occasions, which made it even more dangerous.
The storm crossed Haiti two days later as a Category 2 hurricane, killing over 1,000 people. After passing through the Windward Passage between islands of Cuba and Hispaniola, Hazel went northwest towards the southeastern part of the Bahamas and east coast of the United States, at a forward speed of about 27 km/h (17 mph). Hurricanes are generally expected to lose power after going north of Florida, since the temperature of the water is lower; however, by late October 14, just before it reached the Carolinas, hurricane hunter planes found the hurricane's winds to have accelerated to 240 km/h (150 mph), making it a Category 4 storm, and its forward speed had increased to 48 km/h (30 mph).
Hurricane Hazel made landfall near the North Carolina/South Carolina border by the morning of October 15, striking Myrtle Beach, South Carolina before moving north. The storm became extratropical as it passed over Raleigh, North Carolina as a strong Category 3 hurricane early on October 15. Hazel accelerated to over 80 km/h (50 mph) upon landfall, and was centred over New York state and Pennsylvania by 4:30 p.m. EDT. Contrary to expectations, Hazel had not lost much intensity: winds of 160 km/h (99 mph) were measured in parts of Delaware, Maryland, New York, and Pennsylvania. Before leaving the United States, the storm had claimed 95 lives, of which the majority were drowning casualties.
Moving very rapidly, Hazel consolidated with a cold front and moved towards Toronto. The storm drastically slowed on reaching the region, partially blocked by an area of high pressure to the northeast, and by midnight, it was centred over downtown Toronto. The most rain fell around Brampton, as it was where the original storm and the cold front merged. Hazel had still retained intensity equal to that of a Category 1 storm, with gusts of over 150 km/h (93 mph), sustained winds as high as 124 km/h (77 mph), and rainfall in excess of 200 mm (7.9 in), after moving almost 1,000 km (620 mi) over land. After leaving Toronto, the storm continued into northern Ontario and northern Quebec, and lost most of its remaining power over sparsely populated areas. Hazel fully dissipated on October 18, having caused 81 casualties in Ontario.
On October 6, small craft warnings were issued for the Dutch islands of Aruba, Bonaire, and Curaçao, despite simultaneous predictions that Hazel would pass to the north. These early predictions included the hurricane would strike Jamaica if it were to continue on its course, or if deviated northwest, it could strike the Dominican Republic. These warnings were suspended a day later since it posed no threat to land, although Hazel's eventual course, towards the Atlantic Ocean or Gulf of Mexico, was undetermined. On October 8, vessels were asked to take caution in the Windward Passage. Two days later, the intensifying was moving nearly due west, which resulted in a warning to Jamaican small craft to remain in port. Few preparations were made in Haiti, as a result of poor communications infrastructure.
American planes observed the intensifying storm in the Atlantic Ocean since it was spotted, and warnings were issued for Florida's east coast when Hazel began to approach Jamaica. When the hurricane had passed Haiti and was tracking north, it was expected to lose power as it passed over cooler waters north of Florida. Hazel was originally forecast to hit Savannah, Georgia. At 11 a.m. EDT on October 14 the National Weather Bureau issued a warning for the Carolinas, with the caveat that the hurricane was expected to stay offshore and largely spare any land. Instead, the storm took a northwest turn and headed towards land. By evening of the same day, the storm was forecast to make landfall near the Carolinas border, and evacuation warnings were issued along the coast. Further forecasts expected Hazel to lose its power and dissipate over the Allegheny Mountains.
In her book, Hurricane Hazel, Betty Kennedy argues that in Canada, the impressions that Hazel was "the best-kept secret in town" and that it was a "fully documented meteorological event that should have taken nobody by surprise" both "paradoxically [...] contain a great deal of truth". Meteorologists predicted that if Hazel merged with the cold front, the storm would not lose intensity, but instead potentially strengthen. Two Special Weather Bulletins were issued by the Dominion Weather Office, but since it was expected that the storm would pass east of Toronto, few other warnings were given and there were no evacuations, which increased the eventually property damage and loss of life. The forecast called for high winds between 65 km/h (40 mph) and 80 km/h (50 mph), with only occasional showers. On lakes Erie and Ontario, ships received warnings about strong winds, and the predicted wind speeds ranged from 65 km/h (40 mph) to 120 km/h (75 mph).
There had been significant rainfall in the Toronto area in the two weeks prior to Hazel, so the ground was already saturated. Few people in Canada had any experience with hurricanes, since it was unheard of for them to travel as far north and inland as Toronto. Kennedy also notes that if "Toronto had been about to face a blizzard, or was threatened by a 14-inch (36 cm) snowfall, that [sic] would have been something understandable. [...] This was different. This was the unknown, the unfamiliar, the totally unexpected crisis. Hurricanes belonged in the tropics." Toronto Hydro had called in standby crews as heavy winds were forecast, although they were almost sent home at one point due to a lull in the storm.
The island of Curaçao in the Netherlands Antilles, located north of Venezuela, received some rain and strong winds when the intensifying cyclone passed to the north. Puerto Rico suffered its worst flooding since 1899 as a result of the hurricane. Due to timely warnings, only nine people were killed: eight by drowning and one by a landslide. However, infrastructure, buildings, and agricultural areas suffered serious damage, and over 11,000 people were evacuated from flooded areas.
Hazel first brought casualties when it struck Haiti on October 12 as a Category 2 storm. The hurricane brought flash floods which destroyed numerous villages, and high winds which caused considerable damage to major cities. The death toll was estimated to be as high as 1,000 people; most of the casualties drowned when the water flowed in a flood down the mountains. The situation was exacerbated by deforestation, which lessened the ability of the soil to hold water. Haiti's South Peninsula took the brunt of the storm: the largest town, Aux Cayes, reported at least 200 casualties, while the second-largest town of Jérémie was reported to have been washed in the sea, with at least 200 more casualties. Damage alone in Aux Cayes was estimated to be $500,000 (1954 USD). Hazel destroyed about 40% of the coffee trees and 50% of the cacao crop, affecting the country's economy for several years. Objects from Haiti, such as bowls, were reported to have been transported by the hurricane to the Carolinian coast.
After weakening while crossing Haiti, the hurricane passed through the Bahamas and regained strength over the Atlantic Ocean. Hazel made landfall as a Category 4 hurricane near Calabash, North Carolina, close to the North Carolina/South Carolina state border, halfway between Myrtle Beach, South Carolina and Wilmington, North Carolina. At landfall, the hurricane brought a storm surge of over 5.5 m (18 ft) to a large area of coastline, producing severe coastal damage; the damage was greater since the hurricane coincided with the highest lunar tide of the year.
Brunswick County, North Carolina, suffered the heaviest damage, where most coastal dwellings were either completely destroyed or severely damaged. For example, in Long Beach, North Carolina, only five of the 357 buildings were left standing. About 80% of waterfront dwellings in Myrtle Beach were also destroyed. As a result of the high storm surge, the low-lying sandy barrier islands were completely flooded. The official report from the Weather Bureau in Raleigh, North Carolina stated that as a result of Hazel, "all traces of civilization on the immediate waterfront between the state line and Cape Fear were practically annihilated." At the Raleigh-Durham Airport in North Carolina, sustained winds of 120 km/h (75 mph) with gusts of 140 km/h (87 mph) were recorded. With such high winds state-wide, heavy damage was caused to forests, and to property as a result of falling trees. However, since the Carolinas, like the rest of the Southeastern United States, were suffering from a severe drought, the heavy rainfall brought by Hazel was welcome. In North Carolina, the most rain was received in the interior of the state: Robbins received 286 mm (11.3 in) of rain, and Carthage received 247 mm (9.7 in).
Nineteen people were killed in North Carolina, with several hundred more injured; 15,000 homes were destroyed and another 39,000 were damaged. Damages in the Carolinas amounted to $163 million, of which only $25 million was in South Carolina. Elsewhere in the United States, damages were estimated at $145 million for a total of $308 million in losses from the hurricane.
While Hazel caused the most damage in the Carolinas, Hazel did not lose all of its intensity as it rushed north and turned extratropical when it merged with a cold front. Before reaching Canada, the storm went through Delaware, Maryland, New Jersey, New York, Pennsylvania, Virginia, and West Virginia. Rain totals in some areas were as high as 300 mm (12 in) and wind gusts reached 160 km/h (99 mph). Power was knocked out in many places and numerous trees were downed. The Washington area was particularly affected, with considerable flooding reported in Virginia and Maryland. New Jersey escaped major flooding as the high tide was low enough. In Chesapeake Bay, the majority of crab pots were destroyed. Hazel unroofed homes in Pennsylvania, and had lost a considerable amount of moisture when crossing the Allegheny Mountains, which raised rivers and streams in the Pittsburgh area significantly above the flood mark. Despite the loss of moisture, Hazel remained powerful enough to block highways and railways in upstate New York.
Hurricane Hazel struck Ontario and traveled towards James Bay before dissipating over northern Ontario and Quebec; however, the Toronto area was by far the worst affected. In the few weeks leading up to Hazel striking the Greater Toronto Area, the region had experienced unusually high rainfall. When the storm arrived, the water table was already saturated; as a result, most of the precipitation—with estimates as high as 90%—simply ran off into rivers and creeks in Toronto, which raised water levels by as much as six to eight metres. Betty Kennedy estimates that as much 200 billion litres of water fell on to the Humber River's watershed alone.
Anything built in the floodplain of a major waterway was either inundated or simply swept away. In a city not used to natural disasters, especially heavy rainfall, there had been no experience with heavy flooding, which resulted in a lack of preparedness and greater loss of life. Areas slightly to the west of Toronto proper received significantly more rain than to east: Snelgrove, near Brampton, received 214 mm (8.4 in), the most of any Canadian location, while both Snelgrove and Brampton reported 90 mm (3.5 in) in three hours, between 9 p.m. and midnight on October 15.
With the rise of river and stream levels, Toronto's infrastructure took a heavy hit. Not built to withstand heavy flooding, over 50 bridges, many part of important highways, were destroyed when the high water washed them out or carried debris and smashed them. Numerous roads and railways were also washed out. While mariners heeded warnings and avoided loss of life, the National Yacht Club incurred over C$100,000 (2009: C$800,000) in damages as a result of high waves on Lake Ontario.
The Holland Marsh is located in a bowl-shaped valley directly south of Lake Simcoe, near Bradford. Unlike the flash floods in rivers and creeks to the south, the flooding of Holland Marsh was slow, which allowed people to avoid drowning by escaping to Bradford, which is located on a hill. Property damage was severe: Allan Andreson, a CBC reporter, said that the "marsh was just like one vast lake. All you could see in the distance sticking out of the water was the steeple of the Springdale Christian Reformed Church". Highway 400, which passes through the marsh, was under as much as 3 m (9.8 ft) of water in some places when as much 6.1 m (20 ft) of water backed up. The economic losses were also hard. While most of the year's crop had been harvested by mid-October, it had not been brought in, so it was either submerged or swept away by the flood; in addition, any produce that came into contact with flood was deemed to be unfit for consumption and had to be destroyed. The original effort to drain the Marsh by Toronto Hydro was unsuccessful as their pumps were getting clogged by produce, and other debris. Through numerous donations, better equipment was obtained, and the Holland Marsh was drained by November 13. Fears that the marsh would become infertile after the flood were allayed with above-average harvests in the following years.
The Humber River, in the west end of the city, caused the most destruction as a result of an intense flash flood. With no flood control in place and most minor rivers and creeks draining into it, a flash flood ensued. The resulting current was so strong that the Toronto Star reported that the police were told that "nothing can make it and anyone in it will be killed for sure", when referring to launching a rescue boat. That prediction came true when a team of five volunteer firefighters were killed when their fire truck was swept away as they were responding to help a stranded motorist. Communities along the Humber which were located in its floodplain were devastated: at Woodbridge, the river swelled from its usual width of 20 m (66 ft) to 107 m (351 ft) at its narrowest point, and left hundreds homeless and nine dead. Of the 81 Canadian fatalities, 35 lived on Raymore Drive. Located parallel to the river, 366 m (1,201 ft) of the road and 14 homes, many with their occupants inside, were swept away by the Humber. The rise of the river was unprecedented and the residents did not evacuate, which led to the high death toll. The damage was so severe that the area along Raymore Drive and the surrounding neighbourhood which had been flooded was converted from a residential area into a park.
Further west, the Etobicoke Creek also overflowed its banks at the village of Long Branch, located near Lake Ontario, which caused heavy flooding. Seven people were killed, as many dwellings were swept into the lake. That area of the village was also converted into a park. On the east side of Toronto, areas near the Don River received some flooding, but it was not as severe due to the substantially smaller amount of rainfall in that end of the city.
The death of 81 people has not since been equaled by a natural disaster in Canada. In addition to the casualties, over 4,000 families were left homeless. The Department of Public Safety and Emergency Preparedness Canada estimates the total cost of Hurricane Hazel for Canada, taking into account long-term effects such as economic disruption, the cost of lost property, and recovery costs, to be C$137,552,400 (2009: $1,126,947,163).
In the aftermath of Hazel, a three-day period of national mourning was declared in Haiti for hurricane victims. With existing infrastructure already poor, the recovery was very slow since many of the few existing roads were blocked, and communications equipment was either out, damaged, or destroyed. The Haitian Red Cross appealed for assistance to the International Red Cross, while the American Red Cross made a donation of $25,000 (1954 USD). Pan American World Airways offered the use of its planes to assist with the delivery of aid, and the US aircraft carrier USS Saipan deployed 18 helicopters to help deliver supplies. Despite the relief effort, there was an outbreak of typhoid fever following Hazel due to a lack of clean water.
In the Carolinas, the National Guard was mobilised by the evening of October 15 to prevent looting along affected areas of the coastline. On October 17, President Dwight D. Eisenhower declared a "major disaster" in the Carolinas, and offered "immediate and unlimited federal assistance." Recovery was quick, and by October 24, all but two units were demobilised. Another concern was the rebuilding of the sand dunes along waterfronts. An artificial sand dune barrier, 39 km (24 mi) long, was completed by October 30, which in the long run led to a more rapid natural build-up of larger dunes. With Myrtle Beach a popular tourist destination, the Chamber of Commerce began an information campaign to inform the public, which might have erroneously concluded from the massive media coverage that the city had been destroyed, that the city would be ready for the coming summer. The rebuilding after the partial destruction would transform Myrtle Beach from a "quaint summer colony to a high-rise resort city".
Eight hundred troops—fifteen militia groups and eight army reserve units—were summoned to Toronto to assist with the cleanup. Local members of the navy assisted by providing boats and 100 men. The army donated 900 blankets, 350 mattresses, 175 double-decker beds, and 150 stretchers. Toronto residents helped out with the relief effort: the Salvation Army received so many donations of clothes, footwear, blankets, food, and money that its storage facilities were overfilled, forcing it to advise against further donations until they were needed.
The Hurricane Relief Fund was established to "receive contributions from all those citizens in this province and elsewhere who desire to assist those who have lost so much." It received donations from organisations, companies and individuals including Pope Pius XII, the Ford Motor Company, the United Church of Canada, Laura Secord Candy Shops, and the British American Oil Company. Approximately $5,100,000 (2009: $41,750,000) was distributed from a total fund of about $5,300,000 (2009: $43,000,000), with half the remainder set aside as a contingency reserve in the event of unresolved claims, and the other half going to cover administrative expenses.
In the aftermath of Hurricane Hazel, the Toronto and Region Conservation was created though the merger of smaller, regional conservation authorities, with the mission to manage the area's floodplains and rivers. For instance, there had been previously rejected plans to build dams along the Humber River to control flooding; after the storm, some were built, but they would not prevent flooding in another weather event comparable to Hazel's severity and under similar circumstances. After the flooding brought on by Hazel, flood control in Ontario and Canada as a whole became a more important issue.
Land in heavily flooded areas was expropriated, and policies were instituted to prevent home construction and other development projects in ravines or floodplains. Most of this expropriated land was converted into parkland. Between Dundas Street and Lake Ontario, the Humber River is now parkland, while what was Raymore Drive at the time of the storm was turned into Raymore Park, which contains a footbridge over the Humber dedicated to the victims.
As a result of the catastrophic damage and severe death tolls in the Caribbean, United States and Canada, the name Hazel was retired, and will never again be used for an Atlantic hurricane. However, since it was retired before the inception of naming lists with the modern six-year cycle, it was not directly replaced with any particular name.