He was referring to the 1953 North Sea storm that killed more than 2,000, mostly in England and the Netherlands. After that debacle, the Dutch set out to design and build the most ambitious storm-surge protection system in the world.
Spanning 400 miles, and costing $40 billion over four decades of construction, the Delta Works has been called the eighth wonder of the world. The system of dams, dikes, gates, sluices and walls is designed to reduce the risk of flooding to once every 4,000 years.
Unlike politicians in the United States, “The Dutch in 1953 were like, ‘Never again,’ ” said Dale Morris, a senior economist at the Dutch Embassy in Washington.
The Dutch have helped build storm protections all over the world, including in St. Petersburg, Russia, and in Venice. They assisted with the recent construction of New Orleans’s $14.5 billion system of levees, flood walls and gates designed to thwart the kind of catastrophic flooding Hurricane Katrina caused in 2005.
The Dutch experts have also worked with officials in New York and Galveston. And they have advised Norfolk on ways to drain storm water more efficiently and Miami on how to improve water management.
Some experts warn that while it’s important to adopt protections against floods, efforts to hold off deluges will eventually fail if greenhouse gas emissions and global warming aren’t curbed.
“We can build seawalls, we can raise highways, but it’s a losing proposition if you don’t stop sea-level rise,” said Michael Oppenheimer, professor of geosciences and international affairs at Princeton University, who lost power in his lower Manhattan home when Sandy hit.