PARIS • Floods that inundated parts of France last week, killing four people and forcing thousands from their homes, could start easing as the Seine River stabilised after reaching a peak yesterday, Prime Minister Manuel Valls said.
The floods, the worst that Paris has seen since 1982, forced its famous Louvre and Orsay museums to move scores of artworks and precious artefacts to safety. It also disrupted traffic in several other areas.
The Seine rose to about 6.10m but was now stable, the authorities said. In 1982, the river rose to 6.18m. "It looks like things are getting calmer," Mr Valls said, adding that a return to normal would take several days.
Mr Valls said four people died in the floods, 24 others were injured and about 20,000 people were evacuated from their homes.
"It will take at least a week for the Seine to return to its normal level," said Mr Bruno Jamet, a hydrologist at Vigicrues, a state body that monitors flood levels. He added that the Seine would stay above 6m for several hours yesterday before receding slightly over the weekend.
The worst-hit areas were just to the south of the French capital. In Villeneuve-Saint-Georges, near Orly airport, soldiers and Red Cross volunteers helped evacuate stranded residents as flood waters rose above knee level. In nearby Corbeil-Essonnes, locals kayaked along streets full of abandoned cars.
In Paris, the rapid transit metro line that runs close to the river was shut down as well as several metro stations and roads near the banks of the river. Landmarks including the Louvre and Orsay museums, the Grand Palace, the Discovery Palace and the National Library were closed.
But for some tourists, the Seine bursting its banks proved to be an attraction, with many taking pictures from the various bridges across the river.
"I find this rather spectacular," Asma, who is visiting from Lyon in the east of France, told Reuters television. "I'm enjoying looking at the level of Seine River... it is an event to witness. It doesn't prevent us from visiting Paris, and in any case, it gives Paris a special flavour."
According to the French Insurance Association, damages from the floods could cost insurers at least €600 million (S$925 million).
Persistently heavy rainfall across western and central Europe has swollen rivers and claimed victims in at least four countries. Tens of thousands of people have been forced from their homes.
Eleven people were killed in the German states of Bavaria and Baden-Wuerttemberg, and two in Romania, while a beekeeper died in Belgium trying to save his hives.
In Germany, 51 people were injured, eight seriously, by lightning strikes at a music festival on Friday evening.
The three-day festival was being held at the airport in Mendig, near the Nuerburgring motor racing track. "We are not considering cancelling the festival," said organiser spokesman Katharina Wenisch.
AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE, REUTERS