Memories of the 'Big Flood' of 1953

31 January 2018

In the night of 31 January to 1 February 65 years ago, the Netherlands experienced the worst flooding ever, known as the 'Watersnoodramp'. Large parts of the coastal provinces Zeeland and Zuid-Holland were flooded, and thousands of people were killed.

In memory of the events on that first night of February 1953, hydrologist Nadia Bloemendaal interviewed her grandmother Willy de Graaff – Holtmark van Dijkerhof, who used to live in Dordrecht and helped out during and after the floods.

Remembering the flood

Willy de Graaff recounts: "We stayed inside that Sunday and turned on the radio. Since there were only a few communication channels back in those days, we only heard little but scary news reports from the nearby islands.

"The next day, a family friend came to our door (he was a commander at the Dutch Red Cross) and asked my sister and I to volunteer and set up a emergency hospital in a nearby school. He told us that the Hoekse Waard (island nearby Dordrecht) was flooded as well and people were sitting on rooftops or on the dikes, and they needed to be evacuated."

Viewed from a U.S. Army helicopter, a Zuid Beveland town gives a hint of the tremendous damage wrought by the flood to Dutch islands. Photo: Creative Commons.

For many Dutch hydrologists, the work they are doing today can still be seen as a direct result of the events of that night in 1953.

Nadia Bloemendaal

Nadia Bloemendaal has been working at the Institute for Environmental Studies (IVM) since September 2016. Her PhD research focuses on tropical cyclone flood risk under climate change. This research is under the supervision of Prof. Jeroen Aerts, Dr Hans de Moel and Sanne Muis MSc, and in collaboration with Deltares and KNMI. Nadia Bloemendaal is part of Amsterdam Water Science.


Published by  IBED Water