The measures taken after the severe floods in Limburg in 1993 and 1995 have now prevented worse suffering.

Despite the fact that the province has not had to process as much water in at least 110 years as last week.

That is what Harold van Waveren, top advisor for water safety at Rijkswaterstaat, says in conversation with - without wanting to downplay the enormous water damage in Valkenburg, for example.

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In December 1993, persistent rain flooded large parts of Limburg.

The Meuse overflowed its banks in several places.

Well-known are the images of villages such as Itteren and Borgharen, where the Meuse flowed freely through the streets.

A year and a half later, in January 1995, flooding hit Limburg again.

Again Itteren and Borgharen were flooded.

Since then, measures have been taken along the entire Meuse: the Meuse Works.

To prevent new flooding, the river had to be given space.

The Maas was widened and deepened, quays and dykes were strengthened, floodplains were lowered and high water channels and water storage areas were constructed.

The Maas Works are not yet fully completed.

In that respect, last week's high water was "the ultimate test", says Van Waveren.

For example, last week more water flowed through the Meuse than during the flooding in 1993 and 1995. Still, the extremely high water level in the river led to "considerably fewer" problems than then, he says.

In anticipation of the evaluation, Rijkswaterstaat cautiously concludes that the Meuse Works have done their job.

Residents of Itteren in Limburg are evacuated using a hovercraft during the floods in 1993.

Residents of Itteren in Limburg are evacuated using a hovercraft during the floods in 1993.

Photo: ANP

Maas does not burst, Geul turns into white water river

Borgharen, Itteren and also the (partly) evacuated Venlo and Roermond kept their feet dry this time, although things went just fine in many places along the Maas. At its peak, 3,236 cubic meters of water per second flowed through the Maas near Maastricht. As a result, the discharge remained just below the design discharge (3,275 cubic meters per second) of the Maaswerken, according to Rijkswaterstaat. North and Central Limburg have "crowded through the eye of the needle", rightly said chairman Antoin Scholten of the Limburg North Safety Region on Sunday.

While the Maasdorpen - except for the areas outside the dikes - were largely spared, residents along streams such as the Geul and the Gulp in South Limburg were completely overtaken by the rising water.

The Geul, normally a babbling brook, turned into a whitewater river.

The amount of water that flowed into the Maas from the streams was "really striking".

"More than we had measured up to now," says Van Waveren.

Valkenburg aan de Geul was particularly hard hit.

Severe flooding to houses has displaced some 700 families.

The total damage to the picturesque town amounts to approximately 400 million euros, Mayor Daan Prevoo said on Wednesday.


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Tackling streams is difficult

Controlling the Geul will require different solutions than for the Meuse.

"This is especially difficult where the stream flows through existing residential areas," says Van Waveren.

When it rains in hilly areas, water collects in the valley, where the villages are.

Part of the solution may have to be sought uphill, he argues.

One could consider ways of retaining the water there for longer during heavy precipitation, such as in the groundwater, in storage areas or reservoirs.

Ultimately, it is up to the Limburg Water Board to come up with a possible action plan for streams such as the Geul;

Rijkswaterstaat only deals with the major rivers such as the Maas, the top advisor makes clear.

In the coming years, the province of Limburg will tackle seventeen weak spots in dikes and quays at an accelerated pace.

It is not yet possible to say at the moment whether the high water works will have to be overhauled again, according to Van Waveren.

"We have yet to evaluate the first image."

According to him, these evaluations will undoubtedly also look at how the streams should be dealt with in the future.

In any case, there will be no question of leaning back.

"That is never possible in the Netherlands," says Van Waveren.

Local residents are cleaning pews of the HH Nicolaas and Barbarakerk in Valkenburg, which was flooded last week.

Local residents are cleaning pews of the HH Nicolaas and Barbarakerk in Valkenburg, which was flooded last week.

Photo: ANP