PARIS • The rain-swollen River Seine in Paris reached its highest level in three decades yesterday, spilling its banks and prompting the Louvre museum to shut its doors and evacuate artworks from its basement.
Parisians were urged to avoid the banks of the river which was expected to reach a peak of over 6m above its normal level yesterday .
"The high-water level in Paris is expected tonight at around 6.3m (above its normal level), perhaps 6.5m in a worst-case scenario," the French environment ministry said in a statement.
The peak is expected to beat the levels reached during floods in 1982, when the river rose 6.15m above its normal level. The record remains the 8.68m reached during devastating floods in 1910.
At least 14 people have been killed across Europe in floods after days of torrential rain which trapped people in their homes and forced rescuers to row lifeboats down streets that had turned into rivers.
AT A PEAK
The high-water level in Paris is expected tonight at around 6.3m (above its normal level), perhaps 6.5m in a worst-case scenario.
THE FRENCH ENVIRONMENT MINISTRY, in a statement yesterday.
Ten people have been killed in Germany and two in Romania. A bee-keeper died in Belgium while trying to protect his hives from the floods, the authorities in the Nassogne region said. A man on horseback died on Thursday after he was swept away by waters from a swollen river in Evry-Gregy-sur-Yerre, south-east of Paris.
French Environment Minister Segolene Royal said she feared more bodies would be found as waters recede in villages in central France, some of which have suffered their worst floods in a century.
In Paris, officials have erected emergency flood barriers along the Seine. Its banks are home to both the Louvre - the world's most-visited museum, with attractions including the Mona Lisa - and the Musee d'Orsay, which see a combined total of some 12.5 million visitors a year. The museums closed their doors yesterday so that artworks could be taken out of their basement archives to higher floors.
The banks of the Seine are normally thronging with tourists in what is supposed to be the start of summer, but visitors were instead walking away disappointed.
While the river's swelling has so far caused little damage in Paris and is unlikely to submerge the city centre, residents living near the Seine were urged to clear their basements.
Boat traffic has been banned in the capital, and a regional train line that runs along the Seine has been suspended. More than 20,000 people have been evacuated in France since the weekend and around 19,000 homes are without power.
Rescuers in the Parisian suburb of Longjumeau paddled up streets in lifeboats on Thursday, while in the town of Montargis, only the tops of cars could be seen peeking above the surface of the water.
French President Francois Hollande said a state of "natural catastrophe" would be declared when the Cabinet meets next Wednesday, a necessary step to trigger compensation payments. He said the unusually heavy rains underlined the urgency to curb climate change.
Several towns in southern Germany have been devastated by flooding. Six people were killed in the Simbach area, including three women from the same family - a mother, grandmother and daughter - who had been trapped in their house.
German Chancellor Angela Merkel said her thoughts were with the families "who have been plunged into this devastation".
AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE, REUTERS