High Water true story - the fascinating Netflix series explained
It tackles one of the deadliest natural disasters in Poland's history.
High Water is Netflix's latest series based on true events. Following hot on the heels of Dahmer – Monster: The Jeffrey Dahmer Story and Inventing Anna, it's another in-depth dramatisation of something very real and painful.
Little known outside of Poland, the 1997 'Millennium Flood' became one of the deadliest natural disasters in the country's history, with High Water telling the story of the before, during and after – much like in the vein of Chernobyl or Five Days at Memorial.
At the centre of the series is Jaśmina Tremer (Agnieszka Zulewska), a hydrologist examining the prospect of a deadly flood ripping through southern Poland. She is in Wrocław, a city atop the Oder River, to study the alarming rise in water levels which indicates a potential flood.
At the same time, the country is preparing for the much anticipated visit of the Pope, which led to authorities ignoring critical warnings that a potentially deadly flood was going to ravage the country. There is also a strong feminist edge suggesting that Tremer was possibly not taken seriously until it was too late, because she is a woman.
High Water shows how certain experts were ignored because of the scarce chance of the flood being as bad as it turned out to be, with government specialists believing any heavy rainfall would have a negligible impact on society. The show also dramatises attempts to mitigate the effects of the flood, such as blowing up flood banks with explosives to divert the water while also raising moral questions about sacrificing certain lands and homes for the greater good.
While High Water is intrinsically about the devastating flood, it also focuses much of its running time on the characters and their relationships in a time of crisis.
What is the true story behind High Water?
While all of the characters in High Water are fictional with no real life basis, the events of the flood are all too real.
An extensive period of rainfall across the summer of 1997 led to the rising of river levels across Central Europe, most significantly in Poland, Germany and the Czech Republic. Several months worth of rain fell in just a few days thanks to low pressure weather that moved from Italy to Poland and remained there for an unusually long amount of time.
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As the flood raced through Poland, several towns were hit by the rising water levels, including places such as Prudnik, Głuchołazy and Krapkowice. In addition, several historic buildings in Kłodzko were severely damaged due to the flood.
As a result of the rainfall, water levels in the country rose two to three metres higher than the usual average, surpassing all previous records. The water levels climbed so high that they went above all of the measuring equipment.
Though the main river that flooded was the Oder, the disaster took on the name 'Millennium Flood' because it was mathematically considered a once in a millennium event.
Around 40 per cent of Wroclaw was sunk underwater at the height of the flood, with 500 litres of rain hitting every square metre in some areas.
In total, 114 people died as a result of the floods, with 56 deaths in Poland and another 50 in the Czech Republic. There were no fatalities from the flood in Germany.
The flood also came with great economic cost, with damages estimated at around $4.5 billion. Across Poland, approximately 7,000 people lost all of their possessions and just under 700,000 houses were severely damaged or destroyed. Another 9,000 businesses were affected by the floods.
100 schools were also destroyed across the country with over 2 per cent of land in Poland damaged by the flood, with the end result being one of the biggest disasters to hit the country since the end of the Second World War. As a result, July 18 was declared a National Day of Mourning by the president Aleksander Kwaśniewski.
Series creator Anna Kepinska said the show was more about universal themes than an accurate dramatisation of events, saying: "[It’s] about an extraordinary common movement, willingness to help, solidarity, and the need to act. It was special.
"Overnight, ordinary everyday life was replaced by the struggle with the element, and trusted leaders emerged from the crowd. The flood is for us only the background of this story and the catalyst of events."
High Water is available to stream now on Netflix. Read our guides to the best series on Netflix and the best movies on Netflix.
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