The 5:30 p.m. train to Richmond Hill takes just over half an hour – on a normal evening. But this week, things went rapidly downhill for more than 1,000 people on the GO train. Torrents of rain engorged the Don River Monday evening, pushing it beyond its banks. The flood waters rose to cover the nearby tracks, forcing the engineer to stop the train. Photos created the illusion of the train appearing to drift in rushing waters. A laborious rescue effort brought some people to safety. But others had to walk out – many hours later – when the waters eventually receded. There were no major injuries and, within days, a T-shirt proclaiming “I survived” was available online to commemorate what can only be described as a commute from hell. Here is what some survivors had to say:
Alessia Lamonaca, 21, Ryerson student
It was pouring rain and I was a little concerned, but I was tired and wanted to get home. I texted my mother from the train and said, ‘Do you think this is safe?’ Literally as soon as I did that the train stopped. There was an announcement about flash flooding: ‘We’re going to be turning back to Union Station.’ Then, we sat there. It was continuing to rain. I was texting a friend in the next car – we were saying we better start back because we’re going to get stuck. We started moving back and then stopped. They said, ‘We have unfortunate news: There’s flooding on the other side of the track.’
Peter Chu, 39, IT worker
The second announcement was basically saying ‘Sorry, we can’t go back. Please stay on the train and we’ll see what we can do.’ People were worried because they didn’t know what to do. And then, all of a sudden, the air conditioning went off. So people were really stuck and it was getting hot in there. The water was rising pretty fast. On Pottery Road, we saw the cars being submerged, so we knew how deep it was. We didn’t know how the rescue would take place. That’s the worrying part. On the train, nobody knew anything about anything. I think the GO Train employee did as much as he could, but he didn’t know either.
Sherry Rampersad, 32, sales and marketing
The AC was off. There were mixed reviews about whether we should take out the emergency windows because it was also raining. Once it got dark, mosquitoes started coming in. It was really upsetting. On a train with that many people, why wouldn’t you bring on board 10 to 15 people to defuse the situation? People had questions; the intercom wasn’t working. One guy had a nosebleed. Another lady was near passing out with a migraine. I was having sharp hunger pain. A lot of people were dehydrated. The ones that did have water couldn’t drink it because there was no washroom [access].
Ben Bahreini, 42, project manager
I heard a couple of people say ‘Snake, snake!’ and some people started to empty that coach. At first I thought it was a joke – probably a worm or something. And then somebody pointed it out to me. We actually thought it was kind of an uplifting moment, so we gave it a name: We called it 5:30 . The snake was just hanging around, not harming anybody. Naturally, people referred to that movie [ Snakes on a Plane ]. But it’s hardly the same thing . We had no major concerns.
Miguel Vesco, 21, engineering intern and student
The most entertaining part of the evening was when a cop SUV pulling a boat tried to get across the road. It was halfway through and, all of a sudden, it started turning on its side. The current was strong enough to actually drag the car off the ground. You could see the cops opening the windows and climbing to the top of the SUV as it was still turning and moving forward with a boat tied to it. Eventually the boat caught up with the SUV and started pushing it. It pretty much got everybody laughing. It was hilarious.
Julia Li, 18, bank employee
The GO employee told us to stay put because it was very dangerous. Many thought about leaving, but we didn’t want to attempt it after watching a couple of passengers try. With the weight of their clothing and backpacks, it looked extremely difficult. They would be in waist-deep water and suddenly drop to shoulder- or neck-high water. And they were roughly six feet tall. I’m only 5-1. Also, I was wearing flip-flops. It would’ve been dangerous because there were a lot of ditches and our feet could’ve got caught.
Kristian Valmeo, 32, supervisor at a property management company
You definitely saw a lot of humanity. One lady had cupcakes given to her as a gift and did not have any hesitation offering them up. I made new friends. We also had frogs in our coach. There was one [that] everyone kind of got to know because it was there the entire time. We did consider barbecuing it because we were really hungry. We saw the first raft around 7 o’clock. It was gruelling to watch them take 15 minutes to get to the train and another 15 to load four people. We were concerned we would be there till 7 a.m. But when the water started subsiding, the passengers in the front were able to walk off.
These interviews have been condensed and edited.