Tomorrow marks the 60th anniversary of a flood so devastating it became known as the Great North Sea Flood (or, in Dutch, the Watersnoodramp – the flood disaster). On the night of 31 January 1953, a major storm caused the North Sea to overflow the surrounding low lying coastal areas and to surge upstream, devastating flood plains in England, Scotland, the Netherlands and Belgium. In total, 2,551 people died on a night that would, in particular, change the Netherlands for ever.
It was a cataclysmic combination of natural forces that produced the storm tide that would submerge vast swathes of land adjoining the North Sea. A high spring tide ensured the sea level was already higher than normal. When combined with a severe ‘European windstorm’, the sea frothed and surged until the water level reached 5.6 metres (18.4 ft) above the mean sea level.
A wall of water, taller than a double-decker bus and just under the height of a two-storey terrace house, swamped the low-lying areas of East Anglia, the Fens, Zeeland and West Flanders and deluged higher ground that was usually spared flooding.