Water: Friend & Foe of Holland

Holland. The Netherlands. The Low Lands. The blue parts in the image are at or below sea level. Frightening idea, don’t you think? It would be, if it weren’t for the dikes, the sluices, polders and mills to protect the land and regulate the water level.

Last week, Holland was in a high state of alert: due to a storm and onshore winds, the dikes of the northern provinces were about to be breached by the rough seas. The water relentlessly pushed towards the shores, so the excess water could not be pumped back to keep our feet dry. Animals had to be taken to safety, houses flooded and things looked grim for a while. Luckily the wind eased up in time to prevent further damage.

Back in 1953, Holland was not this fortunate. In the night of January 31th (my mum’s birthday), a combination of  spring tide and a northwesterly storm pounded against our shores and dikes. It struck Holland, Belgium, England and Scotland.

The dikes were not strong nor high enough. Due to the storm tide, the water level locally exceeded 5,6 meters (18.4 ft) above sea level,  causing extensive flooding. Almost two thousand people were killed in the southwest, the province of Zeeland. In England, over three hundred people were killed in the counties of Lincolnshire, Norfolk, Suffolk and Essex, almost thirty victims in West Flanders, Belgium.

To prevent anything like this from ever happening again, an ambitious flood defence system was conceived and deployed in the Netherlands, called the Delta Works, designed to protect the estuaries of the rivers Rhine, Meuse and Scheldt. The works were completed in 1998.

In 2009, the movie De Storm was released, based on the North Sea Flood of 1953. Bløf – one of my favorite bands – performed the title song. In this clip you can see original images of 1953.

Bløf – De Storm

 

Perhaps I should move back to the southeast, where I was born.