3.5 Square Meters: Constructive Responses to Natural Disasters

Maya Vinitsky

This information is part of the exhibition and research project: 3.5 Square Meters: Constructive Responses to Natural Disasters, Tel Aviv Museum of Art. Curated by Maya Vinitsky.
Would 3.5 Square Meters Be Enough?

1953 – The flood that hit the shores of the North Sea in February of 1953 was one of the most devastating natural disasters ever experienced in Holland, Belgium, England, and Scotland. Referred to as the “Water Disaster” or the “Great Flood,” this catastrophic event was the result of a unique combination of factors including a high tide, heavy rain, and storm winds blowing over the North Sea. The winds and high water level, which rose by approximately six meters, resulted in widespread flooding (which appeared as a sea of blue on the flood maps). Nearly 2,000 people (and many livestock) died that night while struggling to overcome the rising tide, and numerous properties were severely damaged.

Were it not for a single black-and-white photographic album about the flood, which was published several months later, [1] it is likely that dry descriptions of the extreme weather conditions, accompanied by meteorological explanations and inventories of victims and material losses, would remain as the only testimony to this dramatic event. Yet the disaster’s representation in this book, which was published in order to raise donations for the restoration of the devastated area, offered an entirely different perspective. While referring to the climate conditions and damage, the narrative focused on the behavior of the local population, which was described in great detail: neighboring farmers joined forces to safely evacuate residents, rescue what little equipment could be saved, and fill piles of sandbags to protect the houses against flooding; volunteers from nearby areas assisted army and police forces in evacuating local residents; and once the telephone and telegraph lines went down, amateur radio operators quickly renewed radio communications and reestablished a connection with the world.

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[1]  The Battle of the Floods (Amsterdam: Netherlands Booksellers and Publishers Association for the Benefit of the Netherlands Flood Relief Fund, 1953).
[2] Hurricane Katrina in the United States (2005), flooding in Brazil (2011), an earthquake and tsunami in Japan (2011), an earthquake in Turkey (2011), Typhoon Haiyan in the Philippines (2013), a snowstorm in the Annapurna range in the Himalayas (2014), an earthquake in Nepal (2015), dust storms in the Middle East (2015), forest fires in California and Tennessee (2016), and earthquakes in Italy (2016).
[3] See: Jonathan Katz, The Big Truck that Went By: How the World Came to Save Haiti and Left Behind a Disaster (New York: St. Martin's Press, 2014).
[4] See: http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.ijdrr.2016.07.005
[5] See:
[6] See: Hermann Szymczak, Pinar Kücükbalaban, Sandra Lemanski, Daniela Knuth, and Silke Schmidt, "OMG Earthquake! Can Twitter Improve Earthquake Response?"
[7] See:
[8] See: Edson C. Tandoc and Bruno Takahashi, "Log-In if You Survived: Collective Coping on Social Media in the Aftermath of Typhoon Haiyan in the Philippines," New Media and Society (2016).
[9] Storytelling projects can be found by searching online for the keywords "participatory" and "community"; see:
[10] See: The International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC), Minimum Standards in Shelter, Settlement and Non-Food Items, May 2012; www.ifrc.org/PageFiles.