On this day in 1953, flooding in the North Sea kills more than 1,500 people in the Netherlands and destroys 1 million acres of farmland. The storm also caused death and destruction in Great Britain and Belgium.
The storm began in the North Atlantic and moved slowly toward the British Isles and the Netherlands. By the morning of January 31, winds were reaching more than 100 miles per hour. That evening, a 200-mile area of England was experiencing flooding, particularly the Ouse and Orwell river regions. Sea walls were breached all along the coast and the Margate lighthouse was destroyed. By the time the water subsided in England on February 2, 307 people were dead and thousands were homeless. Winston Churchill declared it a national disaster and established a relief fund for the victims. In Belgium, the Schelde River flooded and a dike near the city of Antwerp broke. Despite the impending disaster, the country's King Baudouin made a trip to French Riviera. He returned under heavy criticism.
The worst of the storm, however, hit the Netherlands, where 50,000 buildings were wiped out by the flood and 300,000 people were left homeless. The islands of Schouwen, Duiveland and Walcheren were completely inundated and the centers of large cities like Rotterdam and Dordrecht were severely damaged. Thousands of people were stranded on their rooftops for days awaiting rescue. An extension of the United States' post-war Marshall Plan relief was set in motion on February 6 in order to assist the Netherlands with the immense relief effort. On February 8, Queen Juliana proclaimed an official day of mourning. The state of emergency put in effect was not lifted for another week. By the time the flood receded, 1,524 lives were lost in the Netherlands alone.