January 31, 1953 -- North Sea Flood
The 1953 North Sea flood was a major flood caused by a heavy storm that occurred on the night of Saturday, Jan. 31, and morning of Feb. 1, 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 meters (18.4 ft) above mean sea level. The flood and waves overwhelmed sea defenses and caused extensive flooding. The Netherlands, a country that is partly located below mean sea level and relies heavily on sea defenses, 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.
More than 230 deaths 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.
The floods put large parts of South Holland, Zeeland and Noord-Brabant under water. The Dutch 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. 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 was estimated at 1 billion Dutch guilders (450 million euros).
Several neighboring countries sent soldiers to assist in searching for bodies and rescuing people. EUCOM participated in the rescue and recovery efforts. Helicopters from US bases in Germany were sent in to rescue people from the rooftops. 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.