North Sea Flood of 1962

The North Sea flood of 1962 was a natural disaster affecting mainly the coastal regions of Germany and in particular the city of Hamburg in the night from 16 February to 17 February 1962.

In total, the homes of about 60,000 people were destroyed, and the death toll amounted to 315 in Hamburg.

On Thursday 15 February, German authorities published the first storm warning for the North Sea with wind speeds up to 9 Beaufort. A severe storm warning followed the next day, with a predicted gauge of 3 Metres above normal, which was a level the dykes could withstand.

The severe storm and the flood it caused in the last hours of 16 February affected the dykes more than predicted and led to some 50 breaches before officials raised alarm for Hamburg. At this time of the day, most city offices were closed, which retarded the notification of the population. Civil protection plans were not implemented yet.

Due to telephone landline breakups, warnings could not be forwarded from coastal to hinterland emergency offices. Breakups at alarm siren lines and electricity lines had severe affectations to the warning system. Radio amateurs had to establish emergency operations to support emergency services in means of communication.

Around midnight, the peaks were too high for some dykes to withstand. The back of the dykes was not yet fortified, so the first waters destroyed the dykes from behind and cleared the way for the flood.

Helmut Schmidt, police senator of Hamburg, coordinated the rescue operations, and requested for emergency help throughout Europe. He requested parts of the Bundeswehr for emergency purposes, especially engineers. That meant overstepping his legal authority, ignoring the German constitution's prohibition on using the army for "internal affairs" - a clause excluding disasters was not added until 1968. Also he got help by helicopters from other NATO states. The latter were called Fliegende Engel (Flying Angels) by the people.

120 square kilometres or a mere sixth of the city of Hamburg were flooded, destroying 6000 buildings. Streets were unusable and railway operation was suspended, leaving Hamburg unsupplied for an indetermined period of time.

Severe storm surges have occurred in 1962 and 1976, where the former caused heavy damages in the German North Sea Region while during the latter the highest storm surge water levels ever were recorded with a water level up to 4.8 m above mean sea level. In reaction to the 1962 flood, the protective measures were increased along the North Sea coast and the dikes were significantly heightened in St. Peter-Ording, resulting in only minor damages in 1976. Three other storm surges in 1962, 1981, and 1999 did pass the 4.0 m mark and a general increase of storm surge frequency and severity over the last decades can be recorded.