Forty nine years ago today, on the night of January 31st 1953, a tremendous windstorm synergistically worked with the high spring tide to create a storm surge that topped 4.55 meters above Normal Amsterdam Water Level in places. The surge topped and then overcame the sea defenses along much of the coastline of the Netherlands; 89 dykes failed. Much of the Netherlands is below sea level. The flooding inundated 1,365 km² of land, 30,000 animals drowned, 47,300 buildings were damaged, 70,000 people were evacuated, and 1,835 people died.
Not all of the low lying areas of the Netherlands were flooded. There were extremely low lying areas in North and South Holland that were protected by dykes along the river Hollandse Ijssel. Three million people lived in North and South Holland in 1953. By 5:30 am on the morning of February 1st the frantic efforts of volunteers along one section of the Dykes became a losing battle. A part called ‘the Groenendijk’ began crumbling, and soon developed a large gap; it was one of the few sections not reinforced with stone.
As seawater rushed through the widening gap towards the homes of three million people, the mayor of Nieuwerkerk hatched a plan to plug the hole with a large river ship. He commandeered a ship called “de Twee Gebroeders” (The Two Brothers), and commanded Captain Aire Evegroen to steam his ship into the widening gap. Strangely enough the plan worked, and is commemorated today by a statue entitled “Een dubbeltje op zijn kant” (“A dime on its side”).