National Affairs: Flood's Wake

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In The Netherlands village of Dubbeldam, a handful of sober, weary Dutchmen paused for a moment to stand bareheaded before a row of four rough wooden coffins, but there was little time for mourning. The very next night new gales whipped the swollen tides down the wind tunnel of the North Sea to rip new holes in weakened Dutch dikes and add still more victims to the 1,372 already dead in the floods.

From all over the world, offers of help poured in to the flood victims. U.S. and British helicopters fluttered everywhere, picking refugees from the swirling waters. Many of the rescued were tied to the outside of the whirlybirds like packages on a gypsy caravan. From Britain, herself heavily stricken (300 dead), came boats, planes, and engineering supplies as well. In one day the R.A.F. flew in some 50,000 sandbags. U.S. motorized columns raced across Germany's Autobahnen into The Netherlands to lend a hand, while fleets of Flying Boxcars roared in laden with life rafts, serums, and other vital supplies. The Netherlands War Ministry promised each G.I. the same daily bonus (26¢ and a package of cigarettes) that the Dutch soldiers got for flood relief work, but the offer was turned down.

"Get Out & Push." "It was like the days of the occupation," said one visitor. "You could tell by just looking at a person whether he was going to help, and no one had to look far to find sympathy." Women joined their menfolk to work on the broken dikes. Children were let out of school to help collect money and supplies. Queen Juliana contributed a bundle of her own and her children's clothes and set out on a tour of the flooded areas. At one point her car got stuck in the mud. "Come on," called the Queen, suiting the action to the word, "let's get out and push." Even 72-year-old Princess Wilhelmina took to the road for two days to lend what help she could.*

Get In & Push. More than half a million acres of fertile farmland were inundated in The Netherlands. The Dutch, who only two weeks ago had proudly renounced the need for any more U.S. economic aid, had been set back an estimated three years. Another 250,000 acres of farmland were flooded with salt water in England, and more than a million left homeless. But the worst North Sea storm in 250 years left in its wake, as well, some stirring sagas of heroism. One such was that of U.S. Airman 3rd Class Reis Leming, of Toppenish, Wash. Said one admiring Englishman last week: "If anybody ever deserved the bloody George Cross, he does."

Leming was one of the rescuers standing by at Hunstanton, Norfolk, when the seawall broke, isolating 35 bungalows. An Air Force Weasel set out to rescue the cottagers and was swamped. A motor-launch crew tried three times to breast the gale and was blown back. Without a word to anyone, Reis Leming, clad in a rubber "exposure suit," waded into the icy waters, pushing a rubber raft ahead of him. Often the water swirled above his head, but "I just hung on until I could get a foothold again," he said.

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