49 Flooding

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Television and computers
Nijmegen, Sunday, January 25, 1995. Water in the river Waal is rising continuously due to heavy rain and snowfall in the Alps. The spectacularly high water attracts thousands of spectators and causes chaotic scenes in the lower city centre. Floods seem to be merely seconds away and the world’s press reports from Hunnerpark.

The fear of flooding was not unfounded as a huge wave of water was rolling in from Germany. The question on everyone’s mind was whether the river dikes would hold. Nijmegen’s mayor Ed d’Hondt, chairperson of the regional disaster management committee, took no risks and on January 30 he ordered the mandatory evacuation of the areas Meuse and Waal and the Ooijpolder. Tens of thousands of people had to abandon their homes. Many stayed with friends or family, others were taken in by private organisations and councils. Thousands of evacuees were housed in Nijmegen’s monasteries, barracks and sports centres. The following days were nerve-racking, but the water level eventually fell and on February 6, the Home Secretary, Minister Hans Dijkstal, gave the ok for people to return to their homes. The near-flood of 1995 together with its sense of impending catastrophe and mass evacuation left a deep impression on Nijmegen.

Throughout its history the city has experienced high water levels, heavy drift ice and floods, e,g. the flood of 1809, up to now the most severe flooding ever to hit the river district in Gelderland. The residents of the lower city centre and the population of the Ooijpolder area and Over-Betuwe area all needed help. King Louis Napoleon Bonaparte himself put heart into the people of Nijmegen, a welcome gesture for a city that ‘was crammed with people who [...] had been rescued from their homes by boats.’

Such scenes were repeated during the nineteenth century (1820, 1855 and 1861). Although the water levels were frequently high throughout the twentieth century, catastrophes on this scale were rare. Only in 1926 after a breach of the dikes along the Meuse at Overasselt, causing the entire area of the Land of Meuse and Waal to flood, did Nijmegen have to provide shelter. After that the city’s memories of floods and disaster management faded. That was until the flood scares of 1993 and especially 1995 when the rapidly rising water levels restored the city’s collective memory.
Evacuation and flood threats
High water on the banks of the river Waal, 1995 (RAN)

Source: Toon Bosch, in: De Canon van Nijmegen, Uitgeverij Vantilt (Nijmegen 2009)