Storm Xaver Update

We’re still getting wind surges, but in general it is getting more quiet outside. But then, the biggest danger of the massive winter storm Xaver is not the wind (though that’s bad enough) but the flood waters the storm is pressing into the river estuaries. A similar constellation caused the devastating 1962 flood, which killed 315 people in Hamburg alone.

Hamburg has learned the lessons of 1962 and is very well protected by now, though they are evacuating low lying parts of the city. They are also closing the flood gates at the St. Pauli Landungsbrücken, a floating pier for ferries and harbour tour boats in Hamburg city centre. Now the terminal building of the St. Pauli Landungsbrücken is one of my favourite buildings in the whole wide world, which is already suffering from badly repaired WWII damage, so I hope it won’t be damaged any further. I’m also worried about the old Elbtunnel in all its steampunky glory (my photos are here) and the premises of the Blohm + Voss shipyard across the river. The harbours of Hamburg and Bremerhaven have largely closed down, because cranes and container gantries became too dangerous to operate.

In London, they have closed the Thames flood barrier (no current pictures unfortunately, which is a pity, because I’ve never seen the Thames flood barrier closed). In the Netherlands, the massive Oosterschelde flood barrier and most of the Delta Works network of flood barriers, which protects the harbours of Rotterdam and Antwerp, has also been closed. Pretty much every other dyke floodgate in Northern Europe has been closed as well.

Indeed, one thing I have never understood about the US is the failure to react to massive natural disasters. For example, both the Delta Works and the Thames flood barrier are a reaction to the devastating 1953 flood, which was even worse than the 1962 flood and killed 1836 people in the Netherlands, 326 in the UK, 28 in Belgium plus another 230 at sea, while Germany improved its flood protection, evacuation and early warning systems in reaction to the 1962 flood. Meanwhile, in the US there have been no dyke increases or flood barriers installed in response to hurricanes Katrina and Irene. The Mississippi does not have a flood barrier or Delta Works equivalent, though this could have saved New Orleans.

Lots of schools are still closed, though at least in my area they are operating again. Though I probably won’t be seeing a lot of St. Nicholas Day trick or treaters tomorrow because of the storm, which means I may well get stuck with 24 Kinder Surprise Eggs. The Dutch St. Nicholas Sinterklaas who was supposed to go around handing out presents to Dutch children yesterday was badly battered by the storm. In Groningen, one Sinterklaas was even hospitalized due to a storm related injury (trigger warning for blackface in the form of Sinterklaas’ pal Zwarte Piet).

Newcastle crown court had to be evacuated due to flooding. The Oeresund bridge, which connects Sweden and Denmark, has been closed, as has Hamburg airport and Glasgow central station. Amsterdam Schiphol airport, one of the busiest in Europe, had to cancel lots of flights. Bremen airport is still operating and I saw two planes about to land, when I drove past the airport tonight.

As for why I drove past the airport, I did brave the storm tonight to go to the monthly translators’ meet-up at Leo’s Restaurant, especially since I had missed last month’s meet-up due to my university work. There was a lull in the storm at the time and there were no worse effects visible than branches and leaves littering the roads. Indeed most of us felt that at least as far as Bremen and surroundings were concerned, the winter storm Christian which hit us around Halloween had been worse.

I had filet of deer with mushroom sauce, duchess potatoes and creamy savoy cabbage, which was really delicious. And because it’s so close to Christmas, I also treated myself to a hot chocolate brownie with vanilla sauce for dessert.

During dinner, we saw the first flurries of snow through the windows of the restaurant. At one point, there was a combination of a heavy wind gust and snow, so that the snowflakes were falling horizontally, which was a tad worrying. Luckily, it was dry when I drove home. But over night, Xaver brought us more snow. It’s not going to last, since it’s above freezing here in the lowlands. But here are some photos:

Storm Xaver in Stuhr

Xaver batters the oak tree next to my home and also covers the meadow in snow.

Storm Xaver in Stuhr

Xaver has also dusted the driveway, the mailbox and my car with snow.

Storm Xaver in Stuhr

Xaver has covered the garden and the house across the road in snow.

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5 Responses to Storm Xaver Update

  1. ” both the Delta Works and the Thames flood barrier are a reaction to the devastating 1953 flood”

    I just came across an article at the BBC which gives a bit more detail about the British response to the 1953 flood:

    “1953 exposed the weaknesses of the east coast flood defence system in a dramatic and tragic manner,” explained Phil Rothwell, head of flood and coastal risk strategy for the Environment Agency.

    “Following on from that, there was significant investment in the weak points and where the problems were likely to be greatest.”

    He told BBC News that it led to a re-evaluation of defences around the entire coastlines of England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland.

    One of the outcomes from the process was the design and construction of the Thames Flood Barrier, which began operating in 1984. […]

    Within the UK, a range of flood defence systems are used. These include hard structures, such as concrete seawalls; beach replenishment and “soft engineering”, including “managed realignment” of the coastline. […]

    In recent years, investment in coastal defences has doubled. A report for the UK government projected that figure would have to double again by 2080 as a result of concerns over the impact of climate change.

    Mr Rothwell acknowledged that, in the future, the cost and scale of updating coastal flood defences was unlikely to be sustainable.

    • Cora says:

      Thanks for the link, Laura. That’s very interesting and also eerily similar to the German response to the 1962 flood (the 1953 flood largely passed us by, so our authorities didn’t pay attention). It’s also very telling that whenever a massive storm or flood hits these days, Hamburg, which was hit hardest in 1962, is almost never badly affected, because they are exceedingly well prepared. Indeed, all recent serious floods in Germany have affected mainly inland areas in East and South Germany, but not the coasts, because they are used to floods and have been for centuries.

      It’s also telling that the majority of those who died in Hamburg during the 1962 flood were not in the city centre or near the harbour, but mostly in a working class neighbourhood and in semi-rural suburbs. A lot of them lived in old farm houses or allotment sheds turned into houses after WWII and had no chance when the water struck. There is a man, now in his 70s, who usually shows up in documentaries about the Hamburg flood. He was operating a harbour crane and got stuck on his crane when the flood struck, but survived and later helped with the clean-up efforts because he was in the army reserves. His wife and two small children both died, because they lived in an isolated farmhouse and did not get any help. Normally, you’d think the crane operator would be at a higher risk than the woman in the farmhouse.

      I hope you got through the storm safely BTW.

      • In 2000 there was some flooding when the Water of Leith burst its banks (downhill from us, so we weren’t at risk) and although the effects were minor compared to those of the great floods, the response followed the same pattern: the flood defences have just been completed.

        “I hope you got through the storm safely BTW.”

        Yes, thanks. We’re several miles inland and maybe a bit sheltered from the wind, too, because the worst I saw were some fallen slates and a garden shed that had been blown out of position. Of course, falling slates are dangerous but luckily they didn’t hit anyone.

  2. “Indeed, one thing I have never understood about the US is the failure to react to massive natural disasters.”

    Unfortunately, Cora, that’s because we have an elite group of wealthy extremists in this country who don’t believe they should have to pay taxes for trivial stuff such as infrastructure, national defense (during a time of two major land wars), caring for the veterans who fight their wars, and myriad other things that in the past would have gotten them labeled bad citizens or worse.

    Today they call themselves “Tea Party Patriots,” even though there’s nothing “patriotic” about them whatsoever. Consequently, the working class in this country now pay a higher percentage of their income in Social Security and Medicare taxes alone than most wealthy pay on all federal taxes combined.

    • Cora says:

      We get our share of tax complainers, too, and plenty of people complain when they have to pay “dyke taxes” which are paid by property owners in coastal areas to finance dykes and flood defenses. Though they all want help, when their house is about to go under.

      But the calibre of tax complainers in the US is quite different, which always strikes me as strange, because your taxes are mostly lower compared to ours, so what the heck are they complaining about? Never mind that you need a certain level of taxes if you want any sort of functioning public infrastructure at all, not to mention things like police forces, disaster relief, national defense, etc…

      I worked for the German federal disaster relief organisation THW (who are very well equipped and funded and mostly staffed by volunteers to tackle natural disasters and the like in Germany and abroad) for a while. A THW flood clean-up team was deployed to New Orleans post Katrina and the THW workers near had a apoplexy when they saw the state of the levees and pumps which dated from the 19th century.

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