The Netherlands have repeatedly been confronted with storm surges over the centuries. One of the first storm surges was in the year 838. On 26 December of that year a large part of the northwest of the Netherlands is flooded due to the lack of decent dikes.

Previous floods

Not much is known about the storm flood of the year 838. Bishop Prudentius of Troyes writes in his annals that the water was as high as the tops of the dunes. According to official counts, the disaster claimed 2,437 victims.

The second known flood disaster is the one on 28 September 1014. Not much is known about this flood, either. In the chronicle of Quedlinburg Abbey in Saxony, thousands of people were killed as a result of the flood.

First St. Elizabeth Flood (1404)

On 19 November 1404 large parts of Flanders, Zeeland and Holland are flooded. This storm flood is known as the first St. Elizabeth Flood. The damage is enormous. After earlier floods, the dikes around the polders were restored and new parishes arose. All that is lost. The towns of IJzendijke and Hugevliet are engulfed by the waves.

Second St. Elizabeth Flood (1421)

On 19 November 1421, the second St. Elizabeth Flood causes death and destruction in Zeeland and Holland. The flood is the result of a very severe north-westerly storm in combination with an extremely high storm surge. Noord-Beveland is hardest hit. The damage is so extreme that Jan van Beieren – Count of Holland, Zeeland and Henegouwen – exempts the area from paying  part of their taxes in order to make repair work possible.

Zuid-Beveland is also hit hard and the parishes on Schouwen-Duiveland are unable to pay the contribution to the bishop in Utrecht for some years after the second St. Elizabeth Flood. This is because they are busy with repairs. In the second St. Elizabeth Flood, 30 villages and around 2,000 lives are lost.

St Elizabeth’s Day flood,
St Elizabeth’s Day flood,

Saint Felix Flood (1530)

Disaster strikes again in 1530. On 5 November of that year large parts of Zeeland are flooded by the Saint Felix flood. Eighteen villages in the area east of Yerseke (then called East Watering) are completely wiped out. The slightly higher city of Reimerswaal remains, but only as a small island. Noord-Beveland and Schouwen-Duiveland are also deeply affected by the Saint Felix Flood. Only the tower of Kortgene is still visible above the water on Noord-Beveland. Noord-Beveland can eventually be saved, but transforms into a salt marsh area. It takes almost 70 years after the Saint Felix Flood before the first polder on Noord-Beveland has its dikes restored.


All Saints Flood (1570)

In 1570 the Netherlands are confronted with the All Saints Flood. On 1 November that year a heavy storm rages. Numerous dikes on the Dutch coast give way. The coastal area from Flanders to Groningen and North-West Germany is flooded. Around Antwerp four villages disappear under a thick layer of sludge, in Friesland more than 3,000 people are killed and Zeeland is also badly hit.

For the first time in history, people were warned beforehand of the flood coming. The Board of Administrators of the Oranje-Nassau estate in Bergen op Zoom warns on the morning of the disaster for a ‘very grandiose high tide’. The warning does not help much: the All Saints Flood is known as the worst flood in the history of the Netherlands.

In a letter to King Philip II, the Duke of Alva writes that five-sixth of Holland is under water. The number of deaths from this flood is not known precisely, but is estimated to be at least 20,000. Tens of thousands of people become homeless and winter food stocks are destroyed.

Christmas Flood (1717)

During Christmas night in 1717, the coastal area of ​​the Netherlands, Germany and Scandinavia is battered by a severe north-westerly storm. An estimated 14,000 people die. The Christmas Flood is the largest flood since almost four centuries and the last major flood in the north of the Netherlands. The water is a few meters high in the northern countryside. The villages immediately behind the sea defenses are completely wiped out and the city of Groningen is also flooded.

In Groningen there are 2,276 victims as a result of the Christmas flood. Around 1.455 houses are destroyed or badly damaged by the raging water. Water that also flows into Amsterdam and Arnhem as well as the areas around Dokkum and Stavoren. In Friesland, 150 people die. On Vlieland, the village of West-Vlieland, that had previously been affected by floods, is wiped out.


Storm flood of 1906

On 12 March 1906, a storm surge occurs that hits Zeeland and Flanders in particular. The flooding happens during the day, as a result of which there are no casualties. However, the damage was extensive. Land was not lost. In Vlissingen, very high water levels are measured during this storm surge, which are only surpassed during the flood of 1953.


Zuiderzee Flood

The Zuiderzee Flood of 1916 is not as extensive as the aforementioned floods, but is the direct reason for the Zuiderzee works. On 14 January that year, a storm that has been going on for days develops into a severe storm with wind speeds of over 100 kilometers per hour.

The Waterlandsche sea dike on the south-west of Marken is battered to the ground over a distance of one and a half kilometers, near Edam a dike breaks through and the same happens at the Anna Paulownapolder. The whole area around Edam, Purmerend, Broek in Waterland and Durgerdam is flooded completely. The lower part of the Gelderse valley is also affected. The storm causes a lot of damage and in Marken – only protected by low quays – 16 people are killed.

The Zuiderzee Flood is the main reason for accelerating the decision making around the planned closure of the Zuiderzee. The plan for the closure of the Zuiderzee and partial reclamation of the land originates with  civil engineer  C. Lely. In his capacity as Minister of Water Management, he was campaigning for closing off the Zuiderzee back in 1913. The First World War throws a spanner in the works and it takes until 13 June 1918 before the bill to partially reclaim the Zuiderzee passes.