Netherlands. Flooding, 1953
Period: 1 February 1953
Type of disaster: flooding caused by collapse of coastal defences
Disaster: Dykes collapse in a severe storm, resulting in one of the biggest disasters ever in the Netherlands
Estimated number of victims: 1,836 people killed. 100,000 lose their homes and belongings
On the night of 31 January – 1 February 1953, the dykes in Zeeland collapse in a heavy storm resulting from the combination of a storm flood, which forces seawater upwards, and a spring tide, when high tide is higher than average. Flooding affects the province of Zeeland, the islands of South Holland and parts of West Brabant. A total of 1,836 people lose their lives, some 100,000 lose their homes and possessions, and tens of thousands of animals drown. Agricultural land is rendered unfit for use for a long time. The event remains etched in the memory as the biggest disaster to hit the Netherlands in a long time. Immediately after the disaster in 1953, Dutch people raise € 62.5 million for the victims.
Although plans for better dykes have been drawn up before 1953, they are too late to help Zeeland. Progress occurs rapidly after the disaster, however, with the implementation of the Delta Works. This ambitious construction project comprising new dams, dykes and a storm flood barrier is completed on 4 October 1986 and is admired all over the world. Many of the victims are financially better off after the disaster than they were before it. The money raised, the reconstruction of Zeeland and the completion of the Delta Works create a lot of work and prosperity. The province thrives as a result. That is why the following macabre joke is told in Zeeland: ‘Lord, give us our daily bread, and every five years a flood’.