As the level of the River Seine rises steadily in Paris, the city authorities have had time to review the forecasts and to put emergency measures in place. Where flash floods have hit towns on the river Loing, south of Paris, and also in Bavaria there was no such time to prepare. One elderly woman drowned in her own home in Souppes-sur-Loing and nine people have lost their lives in floods in Germany.
In March this year the Ville de Paris ran a training exercise to test the response of public services to a major rise in river level. The council’s website now gives detailed guidance for action in case of floods. The situation in Paris becomes really serious if the level reached 7m above normal, a level last seen in January 1982. At present the level is something over 5m and a maximum height of 6m is confidently predicted but that is high enough to flood the RER line C where it runs alongside the Seine and the basement storage areas of the Musée d’Orsay and Le Louvre. Both museums will be closed on Friday while staff move stored items to safety.
Houseboats and floating businesses may not be in danger of flooding but access soon becomes hazardous. The makeshift walkway to this boat, crossing the flooded quayside, already looks precarious. Further along the river two barges providing accommodation for homeless people have been evacuated and the unfortunate residents have been found temporary shelter in two sports halls.
Just downstream from Pont des Arts a restaurant boat is linked to the shore by a safety line, allowing staff to cross the flooded quay by dinghy without the risk of being swept out into the river. It goes without saying that the restaurant is closed today.
A minor flood, watched from a place of safety, can be seen as an interesting natural spectacle; a gentle reminder of the power of nature. Today, with the knowledge of the devastation already caused elsewhere in France and Germany the mood on the Paris bridges was sombre. The water level in the city is well below the danger point but there’s another source of alarm; floods are expected in the winter not at the beginning of June. ‘This isn’t natural’.
Update on Friday afternoon: the 6m level has been reached and the water is still rising. The confident predictions are now that it will stop before 6.5m.