Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Watersnoodmuseum and The Flood of 1953

By Ivy

Part of today was a somber yet enlightening tour of the excellently organized Watersnoodmuseum in the southern province of Zeeland. The museum itself was built at the site of a dike break during the Flood of 1953, which helped give a better feel for the vulnerability of the area.
The museum is built in four cassions brought initially to help stabilize the broken dike. Each cassion has a theme: remembering, learning, and looking forward. One particularly poignant room is pictured below. It had a concrete boardwalk into a dark tunnel, sand covering the floor below. A list of names was lit onto the sand, undulating away from the onlooker as to be floating out to sea. By putting your hand on a post in the corner, and calling out a name on the list, you could hear a short story about that person: where they were from, their age, and how they died.

For a video explanation of the factors that contributed to the flood, please visit our youtube site at (the link does not open in a new window)
Basically, there had been a storm for four days in the North Sea, forcing water northward through the narrow channel between England and the Netherlands. At some point, the wind shifted and the water wanted to escape. Unfortunately, because of the bottleneck, the water pushed against the levees in the southern delta region of Zeeland, eventually breaking through at over 100 breaches. The ironic part of this history is that an assessment of the region's defenses had been delivered not long before the flood (possibly even the day before) demonstrating its weak points.

This photo shows the region that was partly affected by the flood. As a result of the flood, the Delta Works Project began, where the Dutch government built the series of dams and flood protection structures shown on this map.

People did not have much warning, and therefore did not have much time to escape. It is said that 1835 people died (plus one baby whose birth that night had unfortunately not been recorded before its untimely passing) by drowning, exposure, or exhaustion. The flood occurred on the first of February, which according to the weather in May, must have been extremely cold.

An interview with Miss Ria Geluk describing her experience with the Flood and also her role in founding the Watersnoodmuseum can be found at: (the link does not open in a new window)

However, the Dutch are resilient, and from the tragic event came the Delta Works Project, a massive engineering undertaking to seal off the land from the sea to ensure the safety of Zeeland's inhabitants.

The Flood of 1953 has been referred to repeatedly as the Netherlands' Hurricane Katrina. Its devastation has spurned the motto 'never again' much like Katrina has spurned a push for disaster preparedness. In fact, the similarities between the two disasters are quite striking: flaws in the levees, inadequate maintenance, an unprecedented storm surge, a high death toll, and enormous economic damage.

The museum not only focused on water management in the Netherlands, but also highlighted disastrous floods that have occurred throughout the world, demonstrating how water can be both a savior and a weapon, depending on the time and place.

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