Once in 80 years. Or in 4000. There’s a big difference. We are talking about the danger of flooding in the area of the Schelde estuary. In 1953 it suffered a terrifying flood disaster which swept away everything. Now a modern storm surge barrier ensures that the local inhabitants can live in peace for the next 4000 years. The technical masterpiece, unique of its kind in the world, stands in the centre of the Dutch waterland, Neeltje Jans. Here visitors can view the gigantic construction with its moving steel doors from within. And anyone watching the tide waters streaming through the weir has no need of floods to grasp the power which men have harnessed here. In the Delta Expo area there are photos, models and audio-visual presentations recounting the 2000 year struggle against the elementary power of water. Films depict a shocking picture of the 1953 disaster and show, step by step, the history and the construction of the flood surge barrier. Water can also be fun. This is proved by a water playground with a water slide close by. In addition there are various marine life aquaria which might whet your appetite for a tasty plate of fish in the local restaurant.
This bulwark is utterly unique. It is 5.8 kilometres long and lies like a gigantic bolt across the 40 metre deep Oosterschelde estuary. 65 gigantic cement columns hold a total of 62 moving steel gates. Each column is 52 metres high and weighs 18,000 tons. The steel gates are five metres thick. Five million tons of broken stone from the depths of the ocean were needed to anchor the construction securely. All the on-site work was carried out by specially built, purpose-designed boats. This Herculean achievement was triggered off by an event which occurred on 1st February 1953. A twenty-hour North-Westerly storm combined with hurricane-force winds resulted in tide levels rising to 4.20 metres above normal and the dykes in the Province of Zeeland began to give way along a broad front. Almost 200,000 hectares of land were flooded. As a result of the disaster the Dutch government passed a law in 1958 with regard to the so-called Delta project. The most difficult task was to close off the Oosterschelde. This was first tackled in 1969 by constructing a concrete five metre long dam which was completed in 1973. Environmental objections led to a correction of the concept in 1977. The new plans foresaw a system of moving barriers which would stay open under normal circumstances and only be closed during storms or flood warnings. Nobody had ever built such a construction. New solutions had to be found for the many technical problems and actual building work only began after countless tests in the laboratory. The size of the task can be judged from the fact that it took three whole years alone to lay the foundations for the columns. In 1987 the Oosterschelde storm surge barrier went into operation. The waterland Neeltje Jans reveals a fascinating panorama along the gigantic barrier and tells of the age-old struggle between mankind and the sea.