As the decade comes to a close, the Star looks back at some of the period’s most captivating stories and reveals what’s been happening in the mean time.
While Torontonians might rather forget the epic July 2013 storm which battered the city, the historic weather event left its mark with record-breaking figures for rainfall and claims made for damages.
In the aftermath of the relentless downpour, thousands of homeowners across the city bemoaned the damage — which city officials said cost in excess of $60 million and forced the city to earmark billions of dollars for flood mitigation. The storm resulted in power outages, flooded basements, crippled the subway system, downed trees, spewed water from manholes and caused widespread erosion to parks, ravines and roadways.
Insurers paid out nearly $1 billion to cover the cost of the Toronto flood, as much as they’d spent on weather-related damage across the entire country in each of the four previous years.
The Insurance Bureau of Canada told the Star that $924.8 million in insurance claims were received from across the GTA as a result of the storm, making it the most expensive natural disaster in Ontario history.
“We haven’t seen anything else that big in Ontario,” said IBC spokesperson, Steve Kee, in a recent interview with the Star.
In 2005 and 2009, severe storms caused $671 million and $228 million in damage, respectively.
The 2013 storm dumped 126 millimetres of rain on that day, with 90 millimetres slamming the city from 4:30 p.m. to 6 p.m.
To put it in perspective, the wettest known single day in Toronto before that was Oct. 15, 1954, when Hurricane Hazel slammed the city and 121.4 millimetres of rainfall was recorded over the entire day.
The wettest July day in the city was July 28, 1980, when 118.5 millimetres of rain fell — again, over the entire day. July usually gets about 76 millimetres of rain in the entire month.
The historic July 2013 flash flooding left the city and Howard Levitt picking up two different kinds of big bills; the city was spending millions on infrastructure repairs, while Levitt was dipping into his pocket to replace his Ferrari California.
Six years on, Levitt muses about being on the receiving end of both ridicule and praise when his Ferrari died in a pool of waste gushing from sewers at the Lower Simcoe Street underpass
The wrecked hard top convertible was one of the defining images of the havoc caused by the storm.
“That image went international, which is bizarre,” Levitt said.
Levitt, a senior partner at Levitt LLP, is now behind the wheel of a new “piece of art” that dwarfs the speed and power of its predecessor.
Amid the mocking, Levitt also received flattering messages from places like Europe and the Philippines.
Some of the messages praised Levitt on his dedication to client service, after the media reported how the employment lawyer, en route to an important court date in Ottawa, abandoned his treasured car, took a cab to the island airport, where all planes were grounded, then rushed to Pearson, where he caught a last-minute flight to the capital.
“I had various people trying to buy the remnants of the car for significant amounts,” he said, adding he was advised against it by his insurer.
Viral images of the Ferrari remain vivid for Bill Shea, director, distribution and collection, Toronto Water.
“I think it’s a combination of the car being very expensive and the extent of the flooding,” said Shea, who owns a Mustang Shelby GT. “People were looking and saying, who would drive their Ferrari into the water?”
Levitt said he was lampooned on social media for being “that moron who walked away from his Ferrari,” which he acquired only six months prior.
Shea said it’s not uncommon for drivers to misjudge the depth of water sitting on the road’s surface. Levitt admitted to doing just that.
“The other cars ahead of me were splashing through,” Levitt said. “I was the first car that stopped.”
Levitt made a speedy escape when the pungent water threatened to breach the windows.
“There were four geysers popping up, so it was filling up fast,” Levitt said of the underpass.
He was soaked up to his knees.
“What I was walking through was sewage, not rain,” he said. “It smelled and the taxi driver was not pleased with that aspect of the trip.”
Shea said the combination of a poorly fastened manhole, catch basins being overwhelmed by the sustained downpour and the road elevation being below lake level compounded drainage issues.
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“It was a bit of a perfect storm,” Shea said “Those sewers aren’t designed for an over 100-year storm.”
City officials said it also exposed the city’s vulnerability to the effects of a changing climate.
“The city’s experience of weather events that result in flooding and situations related to higher than average lake levels, have had significant impacts on Toronto water infrastructure, including the situation that occurred at Lower Simcoe,” according to a recent city statement.
Shea said the manhole was bolted down and a pipe was affixed to a nearby pumping station and connected to the sewer line as stopgap measure to speed up drainage.
“If we had another storm like that it would definitely do better,” he said.
Six months after the ordeal Levitt was back behind the wheel of a mirror image Ferrari California — handmade to specification at a factory in Maranello, Italy — four years newer than his wrecked 2010 model.
Levitt said his insurer gave him back 100 per cent of what he paid (it retailed $198,000 at the time) for the unsalvageable 2010 car, minus the $10,000 deductible. Levitt said he can’t recall the exact amount he paid for the 2014 model.
“I acquired it with the insurance proceeds and some additional money,” he said.
The event did motivate him to tweak his driving habits.
“If it was heavily raining and there was a puddle and I was careful not to drive in that puddle,” he said.
Levitt’s love affair with Ferraris didn’t stop there. By 2016 he was yearning for an upgrade, so he decided to step things up a notch: a 2018 Ferrari 488 Spider.
“This is not a muscle car, it’s a piece of art,” he said.
Levitt waited more than two years, from the date of order, for his prized $450,000 Italian car to arrive.
Levitt said the city’s flood management plan sounds very ambitious, but “there are so many things to take care of, I can’t imagine that they’re on top of it all.”
During recent budget deliberations, the city approved $2.1 billion on citywide capital overhauls, over the next decade, aimed at averting similar system failures.
About $500 million has already been spent on initiatives to reduce the risks of basement flooding across the city since 2001, including funds spent on capital upgrades as well as basement flooding subsidies.
In part with the city’s basement flooding protection program, initiated in 2006 and updated after the flash floods in 2013, there are a full suite of planned upgrades, including replacing aging infrastructure, installing storage tanks and stormwater ponds in low-lying areas.
Sixty-seven areas of concern have been identified for study, Shea said.
Lower Simcoe, one of the areas identified, will be probed starting next year.
Adding a dedicated pumping station and replacing the sewer, to rectify pressure and drainage issues are options being studied, Shea said.
“If we’re going to do a pump station and sewer, we’re talking tens of millions of dollars,” he said. “It will take a couple of years to implement as well.”