The rain-swollen River Seine in Paris has begun to recede after reaching its highest level in three decades, easing fears after floods sent the Louvre and other riverside museums scrambling to protect their treasures.
From a peak of 6.10 metres in the early hours yesterday, the river began to subside, falling to 5.99 metres at 5 pm (local time), the environment ministry’s Vigicrues flood watch website said.
The record for the Seine is 8.62 metres, reached in 1910.
“We’re now in the stabilisation phase,” said Bruno Janet, Vigicrues’ head of modelling.
Across Europe, 18 people have been killed in floods that trapped people in their homes, felled trees and power lines, cut off roads and rail lines and forced rescuers to navigate swamped streets in lifeboats.
Eleven died in the Germany states of Bavaria and Baden-Wuerttemberg, four in France, two in Romania and one in Belgium, according to an AFP compilation of official tolls and news stories.
As the Seine’s levels gradually lowered, the threat in France appeared to have shifted to the northeast, where feared storms could cause other rivers to burst their banks, and to the northern port of Le Havre where the Seine flows into the sea.
The Louvre and Orsay museums, which sit on opposite banks of the Seine, remained closed yesterday, a day after shutting their doors in a race to move art treasures out of basements to higher ground as a precautionary measure.
Paris firefighters warned people to keep away from dangerous parts of the river, but crowds gathered undeterred on bridges to snap pictures of the dramatic sight.
Pieces of driftwood, plastic bags and other detritus swept past in the muddy waters which engulfed the city’s famous riverside walkways, a popular haunt of strolling couples.
“It is a reminder that nature is more powerful than man and we cannot do anything, only wait,” said Gabriel Riboulet, a 26-year-old businessman, as he took in the scene.
Two metro stations remained closed and services on a train line that hugs the Seine was still suspended in places. Boat traffic was also suspended.
The City of Paris said it had opened two gyms to shelter the homeless.
More than 20,000 people have been evacuated over the past week from the Loire Valley and the greater Paris area.
The health ministry added on yesterday that nearly 500 patients from a dozen hospitals and 800 care home residents had also been moved.
Some 13,000 homes remained without power yesterday, electricity supplier Enedis said.