Noah where to go;The Big Picture

15th May 1998 at 01:00
And the waters covered the earth I The animals may not have gone in two by two when a tidal wave crashed over Hooge, north Germany, in 1981, but they certainly lost their pasture. Ever since the 12th century, people living by the North Sea have been pumping salt water out from tidal flats to reclaim grazing marsh - polders.

After terrible floods in 1916, huge reclamations in The Netherlands culminated with the damming of the Zuider Zee (now the Ijsselmeer) in 1932. Yet until the last great sea dike, the Eastern Sheldt surge storm barrier, was completed 11 years ago, hurricanes and high seas still stormed in.

In the English Midlands this year, the worst flooding for at least 50 years swept three people to their deaths and destroyed property across several counties. Water gushed through homes and shops built on flood plains. Football pitches on meadows were drowned up to the crossbars. Boats floated down roads past submerged cars.

In low-lying town centres where once-placid streams burst their banks in torrents, people had to climb on to their roofs. For a few days the British public was forced to confront nature unconfined - as the people of the North Sea have had to for centuries. It is no accident that the church and farmhouse at Hooge were built on high ground, above the polders.

If global warming does raise the level of the sea by a metre worldwide, as the worst-case scenario predicts, will the waters flood back over Hooge? The corpses in the churchyard, buried in stone coffins to prevent them being sucked out by the sea, may be safe, but will the animals be queuing up for a new Ark?

Victoria Neumark

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