Meet in City Hall Under Oil Lamps, Sarnia Leaders Plan Clean-Up Drive
by Robert Fulford
(Globe and Mail, May 22, 1953)

Robert Fulford wrote the news article below, about the 1953 Sarnia tornado, as a 21-year-old Globe and Mail reporter. Here's how he remembered the experience years later:

Late one afternoon in May, 1953, as I was typing up the stories I had spent the day gathering in the courts, the assistant city editor — Dic Doyle, later the editor of the paper and now a senator — came over to my desk and said that Sarnia had just been hit by a tornado and I was to drive there with two other reporters. The city we found when we arrived, late in the evening, still sits in my memory — electricity had failed so that there was no light, only the flame of the refinery against the sky. Downtown, we abandoned the car some blocks before we reached the hospital because the silent, dark streets were filled with uprooted trees. At City Hall we found the aldermen meeting by the light of oil lamps at 11 p.m. I heard the acting mayor literally read the Riot Act to provide police powers for use against looting. I was up all that night and most of the next, living on an adrenaline rush. The late edition of the next day's paper carried my byline on the front page.
[Best Seat in the House, pp. 53-54.]

Knocked to its knees by the worst disaster in local history, Sarnia was slowly rising to its feet early this morning.

The gravest immediate threat in the wake of the tornado that hit this city late yesterday was the fact that firefighting crews might be unable to reach any fire because of the heavily littered streets.

Flashlight-carrying squads were working tirelessly to clear the streets. Early this morning many streets had been opened, but there were still dozens cut off to traffic.

Centre of operations for 40,000 citizens was an office at city hall lighted by oil lamps. There, under Acting Mayor Clayton A. Saylor, civic officials and executives of the major industries met to plan the clearing activities which will be started shortly after dawn today.

Virtually every industry in Sarnia — including the three major firms — Imperial Oil, Polymer Corp. and Canadian Oil Companies — pledged to contribute every available worker to the general clearance program. The meeting divided the devastated areas into sections, each to be cleared by separate crews working with heavy equipment.

Ald. Saylor took charge of the city-wide rescue and clearance activities a few minutes after the tornado struck. He was acting for Mayor V. C. Nelson, who was in Scarboro for a meeting of mayors and reeves.

Hydro service was cut off completely when the tornado hit, and early this morning only the few buildings with auxiliary equipment had electric light. Others used kerosene lamps, candles and flashlights.

Long distance telephone service was cut off for only a few minutes when the ceiling at the long distance operators' room buckled and the operators had to be taken out while props were moved in and the rubble cleared away. At 1 o'clock this morning the company was still using 20 operators, more than six times the normal number at that hour, to handle the flow of calls from Sarnia people informing out-of-town relatives they were safe.

When the tornado hit about 20 girls were on duty, but all but two had to leave because of injuries. Others later took their places, and some of the injured returned to duty.

The Sarnia Canadian Observer announced late last night that the paper would appear today despite lack of power. They said it would be printed at the Daily News plant in Chatham.

Chief of Police S. C. Pratt reported that citizens took the disaster calmly and there were no known instances of looting.

Pratt's small force was augmented by 50 provincial police and 25 Canadian Army men stationed here. In addition, 100 RCR men, from London, Ont., were scheduled to arrive today.

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