It came in the middle of the night. A giant monster attacked while everyone was sleeping. In the early hours of February 1, 1953, a storm destroyed a part of The Netherlands. It was a combination of many things that made this a perfect storm for disaster. There was a high spring tide, a massive windstorm and the water levels soon exceeded 18 feet (over 5 meters). The Netherlands is below sea level, and with this storm, the dikes (dijken) could not hold back the sea. The impacted areas of the country were in the southern part: Zeeland, Zuid-Holland and Brabant…all were flooded.

  • 1836 people died
  • Over 100,000 people lost their homes
  • 4500 buildings were destroyed
  • 200,000 acres of farmland devastated
  • 30,000 animals drowned

There was one small warning about the coming storm. People went to bed on January 31 without having a clue how their lives would change. The radio network did not operate after midnight and certainly not on the weekends, so there was no way to alert people. But no one had any clue at how severe this storm was. After the flooding started, the telephone and telegraph lines were down, and there was no communication between towns and residents who were in need. So a whole new network was created by those who were amateur radio operators and they were the ones that for ten days straight, got the word out about who needed to be rescued.

Sixty years ago this country suffered a tremendous loss. But the Dutch promised themselves that this would not happen again. Already there were plans in place to protect the land and this later became the Delta Works (Deltawerken) project. This storm was a turning point as decisions had to be made about how they would approach the project.  The Dutch asked themselves if they could really stop the sea and this immense project confirmed that they could. It is beyond impressive what was designed and built to stop the possibility of this kind of storm impacting The Netherlands again. I will write about the Delta Works in a later blog. This is now the time to remember those who died and those who survived.

Recommended viewing: THE STORM. A Dutch feature film that gives you a great sense of this terrible event.

flood photo 3

one dike broken in two by the powerful water

flood photo 2

flood photo 1

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  • Aledys Ver  On February 4, 2013 at 12:00 pm

    It certainly was one of those events that mark a nation for good, wasn’t it. The devastation was horrendous and that only just a few years after the end of WWII. I remember how all this struck me when I was visiting Zeeland and the Delta Works there a few years ago. First the Allies had to break down all the dykes to send the Germans away. A year later, the people of Zeeland had managed to put up provisional defenses against the sea after very hard work. Then a few years after that, the big storm hit the whole country and there was devastation again. It’s amazing to see how these people have come out of these catastrophes as a strong and determined nation.

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