For a few hours on Monday, it felt a bit like the End of Days in Toronto. First the sky turned black, darkening the streets on what a few minutes earlier was a bright, humid summer afternoon. Then the heavens opened up, sending sheets of rain pouring down and making the trees sway in the wind.
But this was no ordinary July cloudburst, over as soon as it began. At least in downtown Toronto, the initial torrent turned into a steady downpour that lasted through the supper hour. The rain was general over Toronto, and the effects were startling.
Flooding made parts of highways such as the 427 and the Don Valley Parkway look like rivers, with some cars abandoned and almost submerged. Basements flooded. Underpasses filled up. A low-lying section of Trinity Bellwoods park turned into a brown lake.
The power failed in many parts of the city. The newsroom of The Globe and Mail went dark. In some office towers, people were trapped in elevators. At city hall, water poured down a stairway into the basement. Outside, sirens wailed as responders rushed to emergencies.
Without electricity, many subways ground to halt, leaving commuters stranded. Some had to evacuate their train cars in mid tunnel and walk for the exits. The TTC reported flooding at Union Station.
A GO train was stuck and flooded. Marine police were using an inflatable raft to render help to stranded passengers.
Downtown, the streets were filled with people who couldn't get home, waiting vainly for buses and streetcars that failed to appear or passed by, full. Cabs were near impossible to find.
Speaking on CBC Radio, Mayor Rob Ford warned residents to "batten down the hatches" but also assured them that city staff were were working hard on flood damage and "we have things under control as best as we can."
By 10 p.m., an unofficial one-day record of 123 millimetres of rain had fallen at Pearson, exceeding the 121.4 millimetres that fell during Hurricane Hazel on Oct. 15, 1954. To put that in perspective, the city gets an average of 74.4 millimetres during the month of July. Overwhelmed, the Don River breached its banks on its lower stretches, spilling muddy water onto the parkway for the second time this season. Downtown near the Rogers Centre, a manhole cover vibrated and sprayed water like a crazed garden sprinkler as the pressure built up underneath. Another manhole nearby turned into a geyser.
Environment Canada meteorologist Mark Seifert says that two storms hit the city in short succession. Coming in from the northwest, they were sluggish giants -- not particularly violent, but heavy and slow. Because they took so long to traverse the city, they dumped an unusual amount of rain. And in an urban environment such as ours, covered in concrete and asphalt, "the rain really has no place to go."