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River Seine rises, causing widespread flooding in France; bottom floor of Louvre at risk

Streetlamps and signboards serve as markers for floodwater levels next to the River Seine in Paris on Jan. 27, 2018.
(Christophe Ena / Associated Press)

Floodwaters have transformed the streets of scenic French towns into mucky canals, swallowed up picturesque parks and drained the demand for riverboat cruises through Paris.

And the waters are still rising.

Swollen by weeks of heavy rains, the River Seine was expected to reach its peak in the French capital late Sunday or early Monday.

The bottom floor of the Louvre museum, several Parisian parks and riverside train stations were closed as a precaution. Water lapped the underside of historic bridges and engulfed cobblestone quays, where treetops and lampposts now poke out of the brown, swirling Seine.

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Floodwaters have halted boat traffic in Paris, closed roads and schools and prompted the evacuation of hospitals.

But Paris is better prepared than when it was hit by heavy flooding in 2016, and residents have largely taken Sunday’s flood warnings in stride.

People use a dinghy to reach a barge on the River Seine in Paris on Jan. 27, 2018.
(Thibault Camus / Associated Press )

Other towns were not so lucky. More than 240 towns along the Seine and smaller rivers have suffered damage.

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“The situation remains more sensitive downstream,” as the high waters from the Seine and its tributaries come together and work their way northwest toward the Atlantic Ocean, Paris regional police chief Michel Delpuech warned.

Instead of cars, swans and canoes occupied thoroughfares Sunday in the town of Villennes-sur-Seine west of Paris.

The ground floors of some buildings were underwater in the center of the town, which has an island. Water nearly filled a tunnel, and boots were the footwear of choice for people who hadn’t evacuated to emergency shelters.

“The river is rising slowly, but surely,” resident Christian Petit told the Associated Press. “The residents have the experience of floods so they organize. There is a lot of solidarity.”

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Petit and his neighbors complained that electricity and gas providers had shut off supplies to the town as a safety measure, in effect forcing people to evacuate instead of staying to protect their houses.

Christine Hanon-Batiot, a town council member in charge of environment, said the river level was 17.4 feet above normal in Villennes-sur-Seine.

“The people who live here are fortunate enough to live on the Seine river and have water next to them, but then the risk is that the water rises,” she said.

In Paris, cruise boat companies suffered losses because of a ban on river traffic as a result of the high, fast waters on the Seine. Paris police fined people who took a canoe Saturday into the river and gave stern warnings to others.

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Paris Mayor Anne Hidalgo tweeted Sunday that “the situation is relatively under control,” but she urged vigilance and changes to city planning to adapt to an increasing number of extreme weather events.

Meteorological authorities forecast the Seine’s levels to peak in Paris late Sunday or early Monday around 19 feet, 4 inches on the Austerlitz scale. That’s below record levels but still several yards above normal.

Even after the peak, however, river levels are expected to remain exceptionally high for days.


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