Zuyderzee Flood (1916)

The Zuyderzee Flood of 1916 was not as severe as any of the other disasters described on this site. This however, does not mean it was unimportant. It had a large influence on the decision to build the Zuyderzeeworks. That is, the reclamation of the Zuyderzee.
The storm had been brewing for the few days leading up to January the 14th, 1916. Finally, on that day, the winds increased to over 100 km/h. Usually, this would not have been a problem. Unfortunately though, this time, the water levels were already very high due to the continuing storm. Some areas were already slightly flooded. Dikes eroded on two sides. The “Waterland’s Seadike’, which was on the westside of what was then the island of Marken, was swept away for over a distance of 1.5 kilometres. The dike near Edam also collapsed, resulting in the surrounding areas, including Purmerend and Broek in Waterland and Durgerdam being flooded. Dikes also collapsed near the Anna Paulowna polder.

The lower part of the ‘Gelderse Vallei’ (Valley of Gelder) was also hit, particularly the area between Eemnes, Spakenburg, and Bunschoten. Amersfoort was also flooded. The disaster caused mostly material damage, but sixteen people were killed on the island of Marken. Marken was only protected by low quays, so the water was able to engulf the island with ease. Various fishing boats were washed inland and many people were just unable to escape.

The water also caused problems outside North-Holland. Further dikes collapsed in Friesland, leading to the area near the Tjeukermeer and the area around Wolvega being flooded.
The significance of this disaster was not only due to the number of victims and the level of material damage, but also because it instigated a discussion about the reclamation of the Zuyderzee. Mansholt, a farmer from Groningen, thought that damming the Zuyderzee was both unnecessary and dangerous, and would likely lead to new disasters.

The plan to dam the Zuyderzee came from Ir. C. Lely, who had previously been the Minister of Public Works. Following the advise of Lely, Queen Wilhelmina announced in the Queen’s Speech of 1913, that the time had come to begin the reclamation of the Zuyderzee. The First World War however put a sudden stop to this, but on June the 13th, 1918, the Dutch Parliament passed a bill to finally start with the reclamation of the Zuyderzee.