On the night of January 31, 1953, the biggest storm of the 20th century came from the North Atlantic hitting northern Europe. With a combination of high tides and stormy weather, the Netherlands were severely flooded.
Although the storm hit the Netherlands, it also hit England, Belgium and Scotland. The main reason that the Netherlands were more severely flooded than the other countries was because 20 percent of it is below sea level. Another 50 percent is less than 1 metre above sea level. One of the key things that lets the Netherlands keep out the sea is a series of human-made hills and stone pipes that are all across the country, which are called “dykes.”
Many countries helped the Netherlands in the flood, including Canada. Many supplies such as food, clothing and furniture were given to the countries in need. In fact, there were so many goods that the Red Cross had to request that people stop sending supplies because they could not store them all in the warehouses. After the flood, 100 percent of the furniture in the houses that were flooded was replaced by the donated furniture. Many of the leftover supplies were used to support troops in the Korean War, which was happening during the time of the flood.
Even with the support of many countries, the total number of casualties and damage in the Netherlands was massive. There were 1,836 deaths, about 70,000 evacuated, plus an estimated 30,000 animals killed, and 47,000 buildings damaged, 10,000 of which were destroyed. There is still much debate about how the Netherlands could have stopped the flood, but to this day, there is no certain answer.
One of the amazing stories of the flood took place in the town of Nieuwerkerk. The mayor of the town saw that one of the dykes was not holding, so he commandeered a ship called The Two Brothers to plug the hole. The mayor’s plan worked, and it saved many lives.
In reaction to the flood, the Netherlands built enhanced defences to hold the sea back, and there hasn’t been any major flooding since then.