Toronto, ON Ship NORONIC Burns, Sept 1949
200 DIE ON FIERY SHIP.
GREAT LAKES QUEEN BURNS.
HOLOCAUST SINKS PLEASURE CRUISER AT TORONTO DOCK.
400 HOLIDAYERS ESCAPE FLAMING DEATH AMID SCENES OF HORROR.
Toronto, Ont., Sept. 17. (AP) -- Nearly 200 ship-board holiday-makers, most of them Americans, died in a racing night-time fire that swept flames and panic through the Canadian pleasure cruiser Noronic in a few scant minutes early today.
Awakened by screams and smoke, more than 400 others scrambled or jumped to safety through the flames that turned the 36-year-old Great Lakes queen into a blackened sunken hulk at her dock here.
Mayor HIRAM McCALLUM estimated the death toll at "close to 200" but an exact count was unlikely for days. Many of the survivors scattered after the tragedy. Some of the victims were believed trapped in the twisted ship that sank onto the harbor bottom in 28 feet of water.
117 Bodies In Emergency Morgue.
At midafternoon police said 190 bodies had been recovered but only 117 had been gathered in an emergency morgue tonight and authorities withdrew the earlier estimate.
The Canadian press -- from uncoordinated reports by police, the Red Cross and hospitals -- estimated that about 90 besides the 117 known dead were unaccounted for.
Canada Steamship Lines, owner of the 6,905-ton cruise ship, said 511 passengers boarded the ship at Detroit and Cleveland. Steamship officials said all the dead were passengers. The 170 crewmen all got to safety after fighting the flames that apparently started near the ship's cocktail bar just before the first alarm was sounded at 2:30 a.m.
Within 15 minutes after the first alarm, flames had swept the entire ship. Survivors told of panic-stricken struggles in smoke-filled corridors and around lifelines dropped to the dock.
BEN KOSMAN of Cleveland, who fled to safety, told of seeing ship attendants trying to stem the roaring flames with hand extinguishers.
"They might have been trying to put out hell with their fountain pens," he said brokenly.
Entire Families Wiped Out.
Whole families, vacationing on the Noronic's last cruise of the season, were wiped out. Firemen who finally got aboard the heat-twisted hull five hours after the fire began told of finding charred groups with their arms about each other.
Many were trapped in their cabins.
"Some of those people were partying and after they had gone to bed I'm afraid many of them wouldn't smell the smoke or hear any shouts of "fire," declared SAM GRAHMAN, a crewman.
Many of the survivors escaped dressed only in nightclothes. Some jumped to the nearby dock or into the water without any clothes on at all.
"People were screaming and jumping without thinking," dock watchman ALFRED PETERSON reported. "Bodies were falling all around me on the dock and soon the screams were mingled with the moans of the injured."
Toronto officials said mass funerals would probably be necessary for many of the victims. They were so badly burned identification was impossible.
It was the worst Great Lakes ship fire disaster in more than a century.
K. R. MARSHALL, C.S.L. president, said the ship was well-equipped with modern firefighting devices.
"Either a lighted cigar or a cigarette may have been left in the stateroom which was left unoccupied and as a result, there was no immediate report of the beginning of the fire," he said in a statement.
"Certainly none of the officers or the crew knew of the fire until it became uncontrollable."
Mayor McCALLUM said it was "definite" that the crew attempted to fight the fire before calling the city fire department.
Hunt Bodies In Water.
Lifeguards in rowboats sought bodies of persons who had slipped down ropes or jumped overboard in terror at the flames.
Steamship officials were attempting to establish the death list from a check of the survivors with their passenger and crew rolls. But this was difficult because many survivors had dispersed to hotels, hospitals and homes. The officials said they had been advised by their lawyers not to release the passenger list until all had been accounted for and the next of kin informet. This might take days.
Fifty-seven persons were in Toronto hospitals, and first aid stations at two hotels counted 189 injured, 16 of them seriously hurt.
The 36-year-old 6,905-ton steamer had settled to the bottom of her slip on Lake Ontario, and the deck where the fire started was under water.
The Noronic docked here at 6 p.m. Friday on what was to have been a gay holiday cruise, to Prescott and the Thousand Islands after stops at Detroit and Cleveland.
Aboard were 170 crewmen and 512 passengers. The unusually large list had boarded the ship for her last cruise of the year.
At 2:38 a.m. DAN HARPER, a pier watchman, turned in the first alarm when he saw a glimmer of fire near the stern. In two minutes, he said, the whole ship seemed to be afire.
Firemen later said the fire had started from an unknown cause in Stateroom 462, two cabins aft of the cocktail bar just below the main deck.
MILDRED BRIGGS of Detroit, one of the survivors, said the flames spread as if in a matchbox.
"The fire just welled up along the corridors and spread faster than any fire I've ever seen," she said.
Many passengers thought the first cries of alarm were from parties having a good time.
But as the first and smoke gushed through the ship, the passageways filled with stampeding people.
"There was a mob of men and women surging back and forth," said another survivor, ALBERTA AGIA of Detroit. "Men were pushing women around, and many were knocked to the floor. The screaming filled the air. There was so much panic that I don't know how these people found anyway to safety. I slid down a rope."
Men rushed out in their nightclothes. One man got ashore naked.
HENRY MAURER, of Mentor, O., said he and his wife, ELMINA, were sound asleep when someone pounded the door. When they reached the outside rail, his wife started down a rope ladder, "but it became horribly twisted from so many trying to get on it. She got tangled and trapped. I swung down on a rope to her side and got her free, and we both managed to get to the dock."
SYLVIA CARPENTER of Detroit said she screamed and headed for the outside rail when she saw smoke and flame billowing along the passageways.
"A rope was tossed over the rail and I put a hitch knot on it to hold it to a stanchion," she said. "As I did so, three men pushed in front of me and shoved some screaming women out of the way. They went down the rope."
Despite the confusion in the glare and smoke, hundreds got to safety by clambering or jumping to the dock, sliding down ropes or leaping into the water.
PETER SAGE of Hull, Que., said about 100 reached safety by crawling onto the Cayuga -- another Canada Steamshiop Lines vessel which was tied up close to the Noronic -- until the Cayuga also caught fire and had to be pulled away.
But the scores were trapped in their bunks, especially some of those late to waken and in the corriders or lounges.
Eighteen fire engines and two fireboats were rushed to the scene at the foot of Bay Street, but it was five hours before the flames were sufficiently quenched for a search for survivors to begin. In the smoke and steam the firemen began with blow torches, shovels and pikepoles the task of finding the victims and bringing them out.
Burned and broken bodies were wrapped in tarpaulins and carried out.
Coroner LAWSON established a temporary morgue in the horticulture building of the Canadian National Exhibition four miles away. Bodies piled up under the glass roof of the building, where prize flowers were on exhibit a week ago.
The ship was filled with bobbing lifebelts.
The ship, with her name almost at pier level, went down at the stern, then settled by the bow. Her bridge and other parts of the wooden superstructure of her two upper decks were gone. Her forward crow's nest was singed, but her two masts were standing.
Blackened wreckage heaped on the main deck looked like a burning coke-pile with rows of candle-like flame still flickering as the firemen began bringing out bodies.
Steel lifeboats on the starboard side of the upper deck alongside the pier were crumbled and the ship's structure appeared buckled in at least two places.
Some passengers said they heard no alarm sounded; others said the ship's fire bell was rung and the whistle blew continuously.
Crew members said the ship's master, CAPT. WILLIAM TAYLOR of Sarnia, Ont., at first manned a hose, and then raced along the ship, smashing in doors and windows to awaken the passengers.
He leaped over the bow as the flames closed in on him.
J. DONALD CHURCH of Silver Lake, O., described by his fellow passengers as one of the heroes of the disaster, said he first saw the fire start from a cupboard near the bar. At his call, a crewman came with a fire extinguisher. CHURCH said another crewman helped him drag up a big fire hose, "but just a few drops of water trickled out."
CHURCH said he went out in a rowboat to pick up three men struggling in the water and got them close to the dock, when the boat capsized.
The bar manager said the Noronic's bar was closed in port by law, but some lights were left on in the room "so people can take their bottles in there and spend the evening."
The sister ship of the Noronic, the Hamenic, burned on July 17, 1945, at Point Edward near Sarnia. But unlike the Noronic, all but one of the Hamonic's 325 passengers and crew were saved.
The only Great Lakes ship fire in which more lives were lost was in 1847 when the steamship Phoenix burned in Lake Michigan with 247 dead.
The Canadian Transport Department ordered CAPT. W. N. MORRISON of Toronto to begin a preliminary investigation into the fire. Captain MORRISON is supervising examiner of masters and mates.
The Canadian Red Cross set up a central registry to compile a list of survivors and put more than 60 girls to work collecting and providing food, shelter, clothes and medical attention.
American Red Cross Headquarters in Washington sent COLIN HERRLE, National disaster director, to Toronto.
Many HIRAM McCALLUM said the city was arranging to accommodate relatives arriving to identify and claim the dead. He said a special train will be made up to transport the bodies to Detroit and Cleveland if these cities wish to arrange mass funerals.
If arrangements are left to Toronto, he said, as suitable place would be chosen Monday and a mass funeral held.
More than 50 Detroit residents were believed amont the dead.
DR. SMIRLE LAWSON, chief coroner, said only three or four of the bodies taken from the ship were recognizable. Identification was made more difficult because so many were in their night clothes.
Among the dead were many small children but Fire Chief SAM HILL said most seemed to be elderly people.
A heap of human ash was in the middle of the floor of the morgue, waiting to be sifted for identifying jewelry and other belongings.
T. L. CHURCH, a progressive conservative member of Parliament, said he will ask the government to establish an improved life-saving system on the Canadian side of the Great Lakes.
Many scenes of heartfelt gratitude and of heartbreak were enacted as survivors waited for word of loved ones.
A party of 32 from Akron, Ohio, finally assembled at a downtown hotel and found all were safe.
MR. and MRS. S. J. ORTH of Detroit scanned stretchers of the injured for a long time at one of the hospitals before MRS. ORTH exclaimed. "Here is one of them."
On the stretcher was her sister, IRENE. Then MRS. ORTH began another wait, hoping to find her sister in law, MRS. LUCILLE ORTH.
At a hotel MRS. JOEL BAILEY of Kalamazoo, Mich., sobbed. Her husband was missing.
"I dont' know where he is," she said. "The last I heard from him he called to me from the upper bunk of our stateroom. I don't know what happened to JOEL. I'm afraid he did not get out of the room."
Portland Sunday Telegram Maine 1949-09-18