Mississauga Train Derailment Book

Date / Period
Mississauga, Ont.
Object Type
Books, Guides and Manuals
Disaster Management

The 1979 Mississauga train derailment prompted the largest peacetime evacuation in North American history, until it was surpassed by the evacuation of people from New Orleans in 2005 as a result of Hurricane Katrina. Remarkably, there were no fatalities or serious injuries despite the serious nature of the disaster. The Toronto Star praised the “incredibly orderly emergency measures evacuation plan” carried out “by police, ambulance personnel, Canadian Forces troops, members of the Red Cross and thousands of volunteers” from the surrounding region. 

The crisis was not over when this editorial ran on November 13. It had begun near midnight on November 10, when a parts failure caused a Canadian Pacific freight train to partially derail in the heart of Mississauga, a city just west of Toronto. Twenty-four of the train’s 106 cars went off the tracks, and several were carrying butane and propane. The crash ruptured several of these cars and caused a massive explosion seen at least 100 kilometres away. In the next few minutes there were several other explosions, one of which sent a propane-filled tanker car nearly 700 metres away.

One Mississauga resident who lived just a few blocks from the derailment, said the initial explosion was horrific. “Our house shook. The windows rattled. The sky was bright orange, and when I saw the fireball, we were already running to the car, only with the clothes we had on, and on our way out of the city. We didn’t even know where we were going.” 

“It was horrific. Our house shook. The windows rattled.”

Police and firefighters responded to first blast, and several arrived on scene in time to witness and feel the heat of the following explosions. The regional disaster plan was quickly initiated, bringing in voluntary agencies to support the work of officials. The Red Cross played a key role in staffing evacuation centres and offering assistance to the more than 45,000 people sheltered in centres during the crisis. 

Red Cross workers helped evacuate nursing homes, and remained responsible for over 2,000 vulnerable people during the crisis. The evacuation occurred in stages over the next 24 hours, as the situation was reassessed. By the close of the next day nearly 250,000 had left their homes. Virtually the whole city was displaced. 

Evacuees began returning home during the evening of November 13. They came home in stages, for emergency personnel were still working to contain the chlorine gas at the crash site. The risk of further fire and poisonous gas had dissipated, however, and by the sixth day those who lived nearest the site were finally allowed back to their home.

Mississauga Train Derailment Book

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