All large Dutch storm gates closed after storm sweeps the country

Maeslantkering storm gate in the Netherlands
The Maeslantkering storm surge barrier is among the largest moveable structures ever built. March 9, Michielverbeek / Wikimedia Commons

All five major storm surge gates in the Netherlands were closed in the wake of a storm that brought wind gusts as strong as 141 kilometers per hour. It is the first time all five flood defenses were simultaneously closed, the country's infrastructure agency, Rijkswaterstaat, announced on Wednesday.

he final decision to close the Maeslantkering and the Hartelkering was made a couple of hours into the afternoon, though the agency had informed the public all day that it was a possibility. The two structures were built with the expectation they would be closed every seven to ten years. The Maeslantkering is said to be the third largest moving structure on the planet, and had not been closed due to a storm since November 2007.

Its closure was somewhat of a tourist attraction on Wednesday, bringing out dozens of people including Cora van Nieuwenhuizen, the Minister of Infrastructure and Water Works.

Three of the five storm gates were closed earlier in the day, including the nine-kilometer Oosterschederkering in Zeeland, the HollandscheIJsselkering in Zuid-Holland, and the inflatable rubber dam Balgstuw Ramspol at the border of Flevoland and Overijssel. Workers had begun deflating the dam at about 5 p.m., a process which takes three hours.

With the exception of the Balgstuw Ramspol, all five major storm surge barriers were constructed as part of the ambitious Delta Works plan approved in the 1950s. The last two flood protection projects built for the plan were the Maeslantkering and the Hartelkering, both completed in 1997. Delta Works makes up a major portion of the Netherlands flood protection that was named one of the Seven Wonders of the Modern World by the American Society of Civil Engineers in 1994.

Several water locks were also closed around the IJsselmeer and Wadden Sea, and also Friesland, Groningen, Zeeland and Zuid-Holland.

The Urkersluis, a lock near the Urk harbor in Flevoland, was also closed tight. In the early afternoon, a 70-meter-long replica of Noah's Ark from the Bible slammed into several boats at that harbor.

Many manually-operated bridges across the country were not staffed on Wednesday because of the storm.

The worst of the storm cleared the country by 4 p.m., Rijkswaterstaat stated. The KNMI weather agency did keep a Code Yellow weather warning in effect with an expiration of 6 p.m.