Fighting the Tide: Looking at the water protection program of the Netherlands
A deadly storm 60 years ago prompted the Netherlands to begin a water protection program considered the best in the world. After Sandy, some wonder if last year's storm here will prompt New York authorities to make similar changes to address what scientists say is the growing threat of severe flooding. Josh Robin has more.
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NETHERLANDS -- In the cemetery in the little Dutch town of Cappelle, Ria Geluk is remembering.
"This baby has no name. It says 'kidje,' child. That child was born on the Saturday night and it got killed a few hours later," Geluk said.
The Saturday night was 60 years ago, January 31st, 1953. Ria Geluk was six. Friends stayed over. The wind blowing off the North Sea was so strong it muffled the church bells sounding the alarm.
Geluk's father hustled the family to the roof, sheltering Geluk from the horror all around.
Geluk recalls, "The houses were disappearing, even here. Nearby, the farm of his own parents, my grandparents, the house had collapsed and they were gone."
Nearly 1,500 people in the area were killed, the equivalent of about 20,000 in New York City today.
The flood exposed a sobering reality: The famed levees the Dutch long relied on could no longer be trusted.
Officials rethought flood protection in the low-lying country. Billions were spent. The Dutch raised the levees and built massive sea walls.
"We consider ourselves one of the safest deltas in the world, but we are not yet ready. We know that the circumstances are changing, the sea level is raising," said Wim Kuijken, Dutch Delta Commissioner.
It was precisely to ward off such complacency that Geluk built a museum near her hometown.
The museum is housed in four huge concrete blocks that were here shortly after the 1953 flood to plug the last of the 100 levees that the storm had broken. Inside, what homes looked like, a rescue boat, hundreds of photographs, including of Geluk's town, Capelle.
Beside the memorial of the lost, the final section: It shows flood risk, not just in the Netherlands, but across the world.
"More and more we realize, that we need a plan, that we need the information: What happens if the water comes again?" asked Geluk.