Friday, January 4, 2013

The Netherlands and High Water

After Hurricane Sandy so easily sent New York Harbor rolling up so many streets in Manhattan and Jersey City, it was a bit of a shock to see the capital city of Amsterdam vivisected every two bocks by canals. If the Dutch had built their New Amsterdam like the old one, there would be nothing left today of the Big Apple.

Of course, the Netherlands have had their super storms. In the Saint Peters Flood of 1651, 26 years after they founded New York City, 15,000 Dutch people are estimated to have been drowned. Our Dutch hotel clerk, and our breakfast chef, Yost, told us that there was a terrible flood in the 1950s that killed scores of people in Holland. After that, they decided they weren’t going to take it anymore.

He was referring to the North Sea Flood of January 1953, which killed 1,850 people and tens of thousands of animals, and destroyed 4,500 buildings. It was the result of a high Spring tide and a massive windstorm that swept across Europe into the North Sea. The sea swell was 18.4ft (compare that to the nine feet we were worried would hit Jersey City during Sandy).

The response was to build a massive flood defense system in the estuaries of all the major rivers leading into the Netherlands. (In another Dutch connection, the Hudson River at New York City is not a river but an estuary.) It’s called the Delta Works, and it was not finished until 1998.

According to Yost, problem solved. Now he said, when there is a flood in America like Katrina or Sandy, Dutch engineers go over to consult.

Here is an article on Dutch ideas for NYC post-Sandy:

Of course, Yost said, before the high-priced engineers fly over, they send this little guy:

But as others have pointed out, and as the little Dutch Boy well knows, you stop water from coming in one place, it will go someplace else, and probably not the direction its coming from.

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