A man rescued from rapidly rising waters in an elevator that flooded during an intense rainstorm in Toronto said the thought of his teenage daughter kept him going as he grappled with the fact that he was moments away from death.
Klever Freire and a co-worker were pulled to safety just in time late Tuesday after water from a flash flood poured into an elevator in the basement of the office building where they had spent the day at work.
Freire said the harrowing half hour during which they were trapped felt much longer, adding water had reached their necks by the time police officers reached the scene and pried open the doors.'
"I was mainly thinking about my daughter,'' Freire told reporters on Wednesday, hours after the ordeal. "I was supposed to go pick her up two hours earlier to go for a movie, but I wasn't able to ... (the experience) was a little bit eye-opening in terms of what matters.''
Freire said he and his friend were initially unable to call for help, since the flooded elevator was trapped in the basement and the emergency phone on board was not working.
The two men wound up punching out a ceiling panel, enabling them to gain a cellphone signal that allowed them to call 911, he said.
Police were then forced to tread water outside the elevator as they forced the doors open with a crowbar, he added.
Police spokeswoman Katrina Arrogante said water had almost filled the elevator before the men were rescued by officers who had to swim down to the basement to get them out.
"The water level has rose to six feet and there was only one foot of air space left for the two males to breathe,'' she said, adding that the men were able to keep their heads above water by standing on handrails inside the elevator.
"The two officers answering the call then found a crowbar and swam into the basement location of the commercial building, pried open the elevator and rescued the two males that were stuck inside,'' Arrogante told The Canadian Press.
She said one man suffered a hand injury but did not require hospitalization and neither of the responding officers were injured.
Arrogante said the initial call came in at 10:52 p.m. and police were on the scene quickly.
"The officers responded at 10:58, so all within six minutes we were there and able to rescue the two men,'' she said.
"It's actually quite an amazing story and we're just happy everything turned out in a positive manner.''
Up to 72 millimetres in two hours
Freire's experience was among the most dramatic in a rash of rescue efforts prompted by the storm, which Environment Canada said was concentrated over the city centre.
The downpour that barely registered on the outskirts of Toronto dumped up to 72 millimetres on some regions in roughly a two-hour period, warning preparedness meteorologist Geoff Coulson said.
The deluge put unusual strain on police and firefighters, who spent the night extricating people from flooded areas.
Capt. Michael Westwood of Toronto Fire Services said firefighters responded to 638 calls on Tuesday, about 98 per cent more than usual. From midnight to 8 a.m. Wednesday, call volumes soared to 137 per cent above average.
"(There were) people trapped in cars because they tried to drive through deep water,'' he said. "Water was, a lot of times, more than a metre high on roadways.''
Westwood said firefighters also pulled people from flooded basements and stranded elevators.
It's actually quite an amazing story and we're just happy everything turned out in a positive manner.Katrina Arrogante, Toronto police
One video posted online shows a firefighter on the roof of a partially submerged car using what appears to be a crowbar in an attempt to open a door or window. A person appears to be inside the vehicle.
Flooding in the subway system
The downpour also resulted in flooding in the Toronto subway system, which created numerous delays for Wednesday morning commuters.
Toronto Transit Commission spokesman Kadeem Griffiths said a 120-metre stretch of subway track in the city's northwest end wound up more than half a metre underwater thanks to a flash flood. A stretch of the line remained closed into Wednesday afternoon, forcing shuttle buses to handle the overflow of passengers.
The deluge also caused problems at Toronto City Hall. A staffer tweeted that the roof outside Mayor John Tory's office was leaking so badly that staff ran out of recycling bins and garbage cans to contain the water.
— with files from Alan Black
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