- The Washington Times - Saturday, May 26, 2007

The storm surge rushed across more than a quarter-million acres, destroying levees and dikes before it crushed tens of thousands of homes and claimed nearly 2,000 souls.

Unlike Hurricane Katrina, this storm had no name when it surged onshore from the North Sea and caught the Dutch people off guard on Jan. 31, 1953.

Dutch officials turned to their counterparts in New Orleans for aid and technological know-how to build new water pumps, which have since protected the country from devastating floods.

More than a half-century later, the Dutch people are returning the favor to help the Gulf Coast recover from Hurricanes Katrina and Rita, which hit in 2005.

“We sent our pumps, our ships, helicopters and our engineers to help dewater the city and provide humanitarian relief to you,” said Christiaan Kroner, the Netherlands ambassador to the United States. “And in the coming years, we will do all that is possible to promote Dutch involvement for as long as they want us.”

The assistance is part of Memorandum of Agreement the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers signed with its Dutch counterpart, Rijkswaterstaat, in 2004 — one year before the hurricanes struck.

A delegation of state and federal officials from the U.S. has traveled to the Netherlands to look at its system of levees and dikes, and there are two plans under consideration to rebuild the levees in Louisiana to make them larger and stronger.

The construction is “still in the initial stages” and “my guess is it will also take several years as far as the execution of the plan,” Mr. Kroner said.

A spokeswoman for the Army Corps of Engineers did not respond to calls for comment.

The Netherlands is about half the size of Louisiana and is bordered by the North Sea. Two-thirds of the country is below sea level.

New Orleans also lies two-thirds below sea level, and Dutch officials say they are learning lessons from how New Orleans handled Katrina, including evacuation procedures and emergency response.

“Technology is a two-way street,” Mr. Kroner said. “How they handled the counter-flow of traffic is something we can learn to use.”

The Netherlands is also helping the Gulf Coast’s economic recovery.

“We’ve involved Dutch businesses, the private sector, government and at the academic level — everything we can do and everything Louisiana wants us to do, we are ready to do,” Mr. Kroner said.

Recruiting Dutch businesses to locate in New Orleans also gives credibility to the rebuilding effort.

“We have learned that underinvestment in infrastructure may be penny-wise but also pound foolish,” Ambassador Boudewijn van Eenennaam told America’s Wetland Reception in November 2000.

Mr. Eenennaam visited New Orleans just two months after Katrina’s devastating floods.

“If people or businesses don’t feel secure, they won’t return. They won’t build anew,” he said. “They won’t take entrepreneurial risks. That would be devastating to everyone.”

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