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The disaster of the 1953 flood

The 1953 flood is the most recent large coastal flood in Europe. The storm surge hit The Netherlands, the east coast of England, Belgium and Germany. Over 2.100 people died, of which more than 1.800 in The Netherlands.

The 1953 storm surge.
The 1953 storm surge.
Source: Environment Agency

It happened in the night or early morning, February 1st, 1953. A northwestern storm was blowing and it was to be spring tide. At low tide the water level at sea was as high as it is normally when it is high tide. Then the wind pushed the water up to rise even higher and the sea reached a record height of 4,5 meter above mean sea level. In The Netherlands the dikes were breached at many places in the provinces along the southwestern coast. Sea water covered large areas. Near the breaches houses were destroyed by the force of the water rushing in. Many people were caught unawares, there was no warning system and people were sleeping. In the end there were 1.800 victims. About 72.000 people had to be evacuated. Roads were destroyed and telephone lines were down. In large areas relief could only be brought by boat. Many cattle died, crops failed, buildings were ruined.

The east coast of England was also hit by this flood. According to the British Environment Agency 300 people died, about 24.000 houses were destroyed and 40.000 people evacuated. The map by the Environment Agency shows the water level in the 1953 storm surge compared to what the tide would have been without the storm.

In Belgium several dikes breached too. The Ostend and Antwerp area flooded. Nearly 40 people died.

Protective measures were started after this flood. In Britain for instance the Thames barrier was built and in The Netherlands the Delta Works were developed: a system of dikes and storm surge barriers to protect low lying areas against flooding.

This video shows the storm and the devastation. The text is in Dutch.

For more information on the 1953 flood in The Netherlands, look here.

For pictures of the 1953 flood in The Netherlands, look here.

For more information on the 1953 flood in the UK, look here

For pictures of Ostend, Belgium after the 1953 flood, look here.

For an aerial view of the Delta Works, look here.