Trapped journalist shares his experience of Toronto’s flash flood
CBC broadcaster Craig Norris was caught on a commuter train that was partially submerged during Toronto's storm on Monday. He talks to J-Source about his experience being trapped on the GO train for several hours amidst surging floodwaters.
J-Source: Can you give me some background on what you experienced?
Craig Norris: I was going east towards Richmond Hill on the (5:30 pm) GO train … I'm looking out the window and I see along Bayview, at the Bayview extension along Pottery Road, I see a lot of water in the one lane closest to the train tracks. I actually took pictures of it because I thought, 'oh this is interesting, look at these cars trying to get through this big puddle.'
Then the train stopped. (it later travelled back towards Union station for about a kilometre before stopping again)
So it was probably in that 20 minutes where the water really started to rise … There was sort of, almost like a gully where the cars would go down it basically became … just one big river. And in places it was like six feet deep. It probably took 45 minutes, an hour for that to happen — it was very, very fast. It was unbelievably fast. We sat there and we didn't know what to do. They kept telling us the safest place for us was on the train.
JS: As a journalist/broadcaster, did you reach out to the CBC? Were you tweeting?
CN: No and here's the reason why — and everyone was in the same boat I was: our cell phones were dying. I had been using my cell phone all day and I didn't charge it, so I couldn't really do any phone-ins or anything or it would've been perfect at that point. It was pretty well covered — I watched the CBC coverage of it the next morning and there wasn't much I could've added to it, to be quite honest with you. So I phoned my executive producer and I phoned my family and then I just checked emails briefly. But yes, my battery died shortly into it, probably by 7 p.m. my battery was dead. It was a drag. That actually, believe it or not, was one of the most stressful things … No one knew we were going to be there that long. I would say almost everyone in my little section, their cell phone battery died before 8 p.m.
CN: It wasn't really frustration because GO really was forthcoming with information and they really couldn't tell us anything. All they could tell us was what they were hearing from the police. As soon as the dinghy operation started, it was self-explanatory what was happening (Toronto police from the Marine Unit shuttled passengers off the train with small rescue boats).
Everyone was pretty calm and we were joking around. It got to the point where everyone was basically resigned to the fact that this was happening. In any situation like that, the one thing you crave is communication — you want to know what's happening. Once everyone sort of figured out and realized what was happening and we heard what was happening, everyone sort of calmed down.
Reflection on the experience
CN: It was really a surreal experience. I always hear about flash floods — I'd never been in one — but I always think 'how? Come on. How — flash flood — like how fast does it happen?” I'm telling you, it was unbelievable. I can't even do it justice, to be honest with you.
Snakes on a train[node:ad]
CN: When the snake got on the one car, our car underneath and freaked everyone out. I don't know what it was, it was this brown kind of snake. And we saw tons of garter snakes going by the window in the water. I probably counted like 20 garter snakes going by. It was no big deal because they didn't get in but (that) one big brown one that got in, I didn't see it but I heard about it. It was in our car too and people lost it.
JS: (Overall) do you feel anyone was legitimately fearing for their life? You mentioned one woman who panicked.
CN: Yes, there was one woman (probably only 40-something) who — you could tell, you could see the body language — she kept standing up and she would keep saying “I've got to get off, I've got to get off this train.” You see things like that in movies and I don't even know what to compare it to because it was actually real panic.
When the water started getting to the windows of the train, and then she looked down and she saw the whole bottom of the train was full. And then she freaked out even more.
The bottom line is: people in Calgary have it worse; people in High River have it worse; people in Lac Mégantic, they have it worse than we did. But you don't know when you're in it right? Until I saw pictures of it, it was bad being in it but when you actually see photos of it, it actually makes it look a lot worse. And you realize how bad it was. But (the area all around us) was like … a fast moving river.
To see how much traffic it got on the news was pretty bizarre. To actually have been part of that … the guy behind me was saying it's a once in a lifetime experience and I said, “I hope so.” You run the gamut of emotions in that situation (but) I was never panicked.
JS: Do you have anything you want to add about your experience there as a journalist or as a commuter?
CN: It was very weird being in a story. I watched it after and I was fact-checking as the guy from Metrolinx (agency that runs GO) was talking, I was fact-checking his times and what he said happened — in my mind. And he was right, he was dead on. Everything he said was exactly how it happened. So it was weird for me to be part of this story — it was very strange. It's the old cliché, you hear about this all the time — you hear about disastrous things happening, but you always think there's the possibility that one day it could happen to you. It did — it happened to me and it was very strange to be part of it instead of just talking about it the next day.
This interview has been edited