Mass evacuation between Maas and Waal, February 1995

With half of the country below sea level, the Netherlands know the dangers of storm surges and flooding. As no other country in the world, they have constructed an elaborate and efficient system of seawalls, which has effectively protected the population against another catastrophe like the 1953 flooding. That at least was the common opinion - till 1995. It came as a shock to the nation, when heavy and continuous rainfall over western Europe caused the embankments along the big rivers to slide. Suddenly the danger came from the backdoor, and no longer from the seaside. Swollen rivers overflowed the banks and flooded the countryside "between Maas and Waal" - in fact the mighty delta of the Meuse and the Rhine. The life-threatening situation compelled public authorities to order a mass evacuation of some 350.000 people and 100.000's of cattle, pigs, and poultry. As I observed and admired this extremely difficult but well managed operation, I occasionally noticed some hardly surprising panic - but never was there any chaos let alone looting, as was the case during the disgraceful 2005 rescue operations following hurricane Katrina in New Orleans.