North Sea flood of 1953

North Sea flood of 1953
1953 North Sea flood
Aftermath of the flood in Oude-Tonge, Goeree-Overflakkee, Netherlands
Aftermath of the flood in Oude-Tonge, Goeree-Overflakkee, Netherlands
Duration: 31 January - 1 February 1953
Fatalities: 2,551 killed
Damages: 9% of total Dutch farmland flooded, 30,000 animals drowned, 47,300 buildings damaged of which 10,000 destroyed
Areas affected: Netherlands, Belgium, United Kingdom

The 1953 North Sea flood (Dutch, Watersnoodramp, literally "flood disaster") was a major flood caused by a heavy storm, that occurred on the night of Saturday 31 January 1953 and morning of 1 February 1953. The floods struck the Netherlands, Belgium, England and Scotland.

A combination of a high spring tide and a severe European windstorm caused a storm tide. In combination with a tidal surge of the North Sea the water level locally exceeded 5.6 metres (18.4 ft) above mean sea level. The flood and waves overwhelmed sea defences and caused extensive flooding. The Netherlands, a country that is partly located below mean sea level and relies heavily on sea defences, was mainly affected, recording 1,836 deaths. Most of these casualties occurred in the southern province of Zeeland. In England, 307 people were killed in the counties of Lincolnshire, Norfolk, Suffolk and Essex. 28 were killed in West Flanders, Belgium.

Further loss of life exceeding 230 occurred on watercraft along Northern European coasts as well as in deeper waters of the North Sea; the ferry MV Princess Victoria was lost at sea in the North Channel east of Belfast with 133 fatalities, and many fishing trawlers sank.



On the night of 31 January – 2 February 1953 many dykes in the provinces of Zeeland, South Holland and Noord-Brabant proved unable to resist the combination of spring tide and a northwesterly storm. On both the islands and the mainland, large areas of country were completely flooded with water. Many people still commemorate the dead on 1 February.


At the time of the flood, none of the local radio stations broadcast at night, and many of the smaller weather stations operated only during the day, as a result of which the warnings of the KNMI did not penetrate the flood-threatened area in time. People did not receive warning and were consequently unable to prepare for the impending flood. Telephone and telegraph networks were disrupted, and within hours amateur radio operators went in to the affected areas with their equipment to form a voluntary emergency radio network. These well-organized radio amateurs worked tirelessly, providing radio communications for ten days and nights, and were the only people maintaining contact with the outside world. In addition, the disaster struck on a Saturday night, and many offices in the disaster area were unstaffed.

Resulting damage

Extent of flooding in the Netherlands

The floods put large parts of South Holland, Zeeland and Noord-Brabant under water. In North Holland only one polder was flooded. The largest floodings occurred on the islands of Schouwen-Duiveland, Tholen, Sint Philipsland, Goeree-Overflakkee, the Hoeksche Waard, Voorne-Putten and Alblasserwaard. Parts of the islands of Zuid-Beveland, Noord-Beveland, IJselmonde, Pernis, Rozenburg, Walcheren and Land van Altena were flooded, as well as parts of the areas around Willemstad, Nieuw-Vossemeer and parts of Zeeuws-Vlaanderen. The heaviest death toll was recorded at the islands of Schouwen-Duiveland and Goeree-Overflakkee. The government started the Delta-commission to study the causes and effects of the floods. They estimated that flooding killed 1,835 people and forced the emergency evacuation of 70,000 more. In 2002 the number of victims was adjusted to 1836 because it became known that a baby, born in the night from saturday to sunday, drowned that same night[citation needed]. Floods covered 9% of Dutch farmland, and sea water inundated 1,365 km² of land. An estimated 30,000 animals drowned, and 47,300 buildings were damaged of which 10,000 were destroyed. Total damage is estimated at 1 billion Dutch guilders (450 million euros).

"Een dubbeltje op zijn kant" ("A dime on its side" meaning "A narrow escape"), a sculpture by Roel Bendijk of de Twee Gebroeders in the Groenedijk

Near flooding of other parts

The Schielandse Hoge Zeedijk along the river Hollandse IJssel was all that protected three million people in the provinces of South and North Holland from flooding. A section of this dyke, known as the Groenendijk, was not reinforced with stone revetments. The waterlevel was just below the crest and the seaside slope was weak. Volunteers worked to reinforce this stretch. Nevertheless, the Groenendijk collapsed under the pressure around 5:30 am on 1 February. Seawater flooded into the deep polder. In desperation, the mayor of Nieuwerkerk commandeered the river ship de Twee Gebroeders (The Two Brothers) and ordered the owner to plug the hole in the dyke by navigating the ship into it. Fearing that the ship might break through and dive into the polder, captain Arie Evegroen took a row boat with him. The mayor's plan turned out to be successful, as the ship lodged itself firmly into the dyke, saving many lives.


Several neighbouring countries sent soldiers to assist in searching for bodies and rescuing people. The U.S. Army sent helicopters from Germany to rescue people from the rooftops. Queen Juliana and Princess Beatrix visited the flooded area only a few days after. A large aid program came on apace, supported by the radio. A national donation program was started and there was a large amount of international aid, so much in fact that the Red Cross was overwhelmed and decided to send parts of it to Third World Countries. Politically, the disaster prompted discussions concerning the protection and strengthening of the dykes, eventually leading to the Delta Works, an elaborate project involving the closing off of most estuary-mouths.

United Kingdom

A breach at Erith after the 1953 flood

The North Sea flood of 1953 was one of the most devastating natural disasters ever recorded in the UK. Over 1,600 km of coastline was damaged, and sea walls were breached, inundating 1,000 km². Flooding forced 30,000 people to be evacuated from their homes, and 24,000 properties were seriously damaged.[1]

In individual incidents, 38 died at Felixstowe in Suffolk when wooden prefabricated homes in the West End area of the town were flooded. In Essex, Canvey Island was inundated with the loss of 58 lives and another 37 died when the seafront village of Jaywick near Clacton was flooded.[2] In Scotland, the little fishing village of Crovie (then in Banffshire, now Aberdeenshire), built on a narrow strip of land along the Moray Firth coast, was abandoned by many of its inhabitants as entire structures were swept into the sea.

The total death toll on land in the UK is estimated at 307. The total death toll at sea for the UK, including the MV Princess Victoria, is estimated at 224.


The coastal defence of Flanders was also severely damaged. Near Oostende, Knokke and Antwerp heavy damage was done to the sea defence with local breaches. 28 people died.


In the Netherlands, an ambitious flood defence system was conceived and deployed, called the Delta Works (Dutch: Deltawerken), designed to protect the estuaries of the rivers Rhine, Meuse and Scheldt. The works were completed in 1998, upon completion of the storm surge barrier Maeslantkering, in the Nieuwe Waterweg, near Rotterdam.

In the UK, the Permanent Secretary to the Home Office Sir Frank Newsam coordinated the immediate efforts to defend homes, save lives and recover after the floods; his achievements were much praised. After the flooding, major investments were made in new sea defences, and the Thames Barrier programme was started to secure central London against a future storm surge.

Films and music

  • BBC Timewatch made a documentary about The North Sea flood of 1953, called The Greatest Storm.
  • An episode of the ITV series Savage Planet also featured the flood.
  • In January 2008 the Brighton-based band British Sea Power released their 3rd album entitled "Do You Like Rock Music?" which includes the song "Canvey Island", about the 1953 North Sea floods.
  • The Dutch public broadcasting foundation has made numerous documentaries featuring the North Sea flood of 1953. They have also made two English versions of what were originally Dutch documentaries. The titles of these documentaries are "The Greatest Storm" and "1953, the year of the beast".
  • The 1953 Floods were mentioned in detail in the 2007 Film 'Flood'.
  • In 2009 a Dutch action-drama titled "De Storm" (The Storm) was released.
  • The book The Little Ark by Jan de Hartog, published in 1953, depicted the flood, and was made into a film by the same name in 1972. They made mobile weirs to help prevent flooding even worse.
  • The composition Requiem Aeternam 1953 by Douwe Eisenga was written as a commemoration of the flood.
  • The short story, "The Netherlands Lives with Water," by Jim Shepard, contains a passage describing the event.

See also


  1. ^ Stratton, J.M. (1969). Agricultural Records. John Baker. ISBN 0-212-97022-4. 
  2. ^ Grieve, Hilda (1959). The great tide: The story of the 1953 flood disaster in Essex. Essex Cou—nty Council. 
  • Lamb, H.H. and Frydendahl, Knud (1991). Historic Storms of the North Sea, British Isles and Northwest Europe. Cambridge University Press. ISBN 9780521375221
  • Instituut voor Sociaal Onderzoek van het Nederlandse Volk, National Research Council (U.S.). Committee on Disaster Studies (1955). Studies in Holland flood disaster 1953. Four volumes.

External links

Video links

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