Weatherwatch: St Lucia's storm, the flood that changed the face of Europe – The Guardian

Weatherwatch: St Lucia's storm, the flood that changed the face of Europe – The Guardian


One of the most catastrophic floods in history occurred on 14 December 1287, the day after St Lucia’s day. Conditions were similar to the disastrous floods of 1953, in which a storm surge combined with a high tide. The village of Hickling in Norfolk was flooded with great loss of life, but this was minor compared to the damage elsewhere.

St Lucia’s storm killed at least 50,000 people in Holland and northern Germany and changed the face of Europe. Before the flood, there had been a lake in the north-west of the Netherlands, known as the Almere or Eel Lake. The storm surge swept away sand dunes and natural clay barriers separating it from the sea, turning the lake into a bay. This became known as the Zuiderzee or Southern Sea.

The floods destroyed the city of Griend and many villages; whole islands disappeared. Harlingen, which had previously been landlocked, became a coastal town and later developed into a major sea port.

Harlingen port.



Harlingen port. Photograph: Peter Horree/Alamy

The flood also prompted the building of sea defences on a much larger scale to prevent further disasters. The Zuiderzee persisted until 1932 when the Afsluitdijk or closing dyke was built to separate it from the North Sea. It became an inland body of water once more, this time known as the IJsselmeer.



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