Rescue and consequences
After the collapse of numerous seawalls and dikes the dike at along the river Hollandse IJssel was all that remained to protect three million people in the extremely low laying area's of North and South Holland. Especially at a part called 'the Groenendijk', the situation became very critical. The section which wasn't reinforced with a stone layer was - despite attempts of volunteers to improve it - crumbling down.
At 5:30 AM in the morning of February 1 this caused it to break under the immense pressure of the water. With the gab widening and moving rapidly into Holland the mayor of Nieuwerkerk commandeered a ship called “de Twee Gebroeders” to be sailed into the hole and plug it that way. Captain Aire Evegroen successfully sailed his ship into the hole and lodged itself firmly into the dike.
On Monday February 2nd, large-scale relief was slowly getting under way and the severity of the situation became clear. Reconnoitring helicopters flew over the disaster-hit area and started to drop supplies and sand bags. Aid from abroad was also offered. Belgium, England, the United States, Canada, Denmark, and France sent materials and soldiers. Cautiously, the first evacuations were started. On February 3rd, there were 12,000 men in harness, and by that night, the worst of the disaster was over. The storm had cleared and there are no more casualties. In some places, people were still stuck, but they would be rescued soon. Within a few days, the evacuations of the flooded and dangerous areas were completed and people were able to start inspecting the damage and begin restoring the dikes.
The consequences of the flood were huge. 1,836 people died as a direct consequence of the flood. There were 846 casualties in the province of Zeeland, 247 in the province of North-Brabant, 677 in the province of South-Holland and 7 in the province of North-Holland. About 40 people died afterwards as a result of the flood. 200,000 cows, horses, pigs, and other cattle died in the water and almost 200,000 hectares of land was flooded. The contamination by the salty water meant that the once fertile soil was unusable for many years. 3,000 houses and 300 farms were destroyed and another 40,000 houses and 3,000 farms damaged. 72,000 people had to leave their houses and were evacuated to other areas.
In South-Holland, dikes were damaged over a distance of 91 kilometres and there were breaches over a distance of 17.5 kilometres. The breaches had a combined total length of 1 kilometre. In North-Brabant, over 10 kilometres had broken and there were breaches over a distance of 6.7 kilometres. In Zeeland, the breaches were nearly 3.5 kilometres wide and 38 kilometres of dike was damaged. Breaches could be found over a distance of 17.7 kilometres.
Before the surge reached the Netherlands it already caused devastating disaster in the United Kingdom. Along its coastline more then 1.600 km of coastline and seawalls were damaged. At many places they breached, inundating 1,000 km². More then 24,000 properties were seriously damaged and over 30,000 people were forced to evacuate.
At Felixstowe in Suffolk many people were killed when their prefabricated homes were destroyed by the water. This caused the unfortunate death of 38 people. In Essex the damage was even bigger. Canvey Island was completely inundated. Over 58 lives were lost. The Seafront village of Jaywick near Clacton lost 37 inhabitants when i was flooded.
In the United Kingdom a estimated 307 people died during the 1953 floods. Most of them drowned when their ferry the Princess Victoria sank at open sea. An estimate 224 lives were lost.
Along the Belgium coast, fortunately the damage was smaller. Nevertheless over 4400 hectares of ground were inundated, mostly in the area around Antwerp. A total of 25 people lost their live in several smaller incidents along the Belgium coast.
Help from home and abroad
Both from the Netherlands itself and from abroad, aid goods continued to arrive. There was so much help that within a few days, warehouses were unable to store all the supplies. Besides, since some of the supplies were not suitable for the local needs, not all the support could be used. Therefore, on February 4th, the Red Cross requested people to stop sending clothes and furniture. For the remaining goods, other destinations were found. Some goods were sent to the isolated city of West Berlin, and some to Korea, where a war was being waged at the time.
Financial help for people in the flooded areas was needed well after the disaster. Eventually, 100% of the furniture of stricken families was replaced. For some people, this meant an improvement in lifestyle, compared to their situation before the flood. However, whether people were compensated financially or not, the emotional damage still remains today.