Parisians fear a repeat of 1910 as Seine rises

An inundated park in Paris on Tuesday near the Seine River, which rose to about 5m. The river's normal level is about 2m. Left: A resident rowing down a flooded street in the suburb of Villeneuve-Saint-Georges yesterday.
An inundated park in Paris on Tuesday near the Seine River, which rose to about 5m. The river's normal level is about 2m. PHOTOS: XINHUA, AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE
An inundated park in Paris on Tuesday near the Seine River, which rose to about 5m. The river's normal level is about 2m. Left: A resident rowing down a flooded street in the suburb of Villeneuve-Saint-Georges yesterday.
A resident rowing down a flooded street in the suburb of Villeneuve-Saint-Georges yesterday.PHOTOS: XINHUA, AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

PARIS • After an onslaught of constant rain, Paris' fabled Seine River has flooded - again.

On Tuesday, the water level reached about 5m and was expected to peak at just over 6m on Saturday, said Ms Colombe Brossel, a deputy mayor of Paris. The river's normal level is about 2m.

For the moment, City Hall is not anticipating a full-fledged crisis, Ms Brossel said, although emergency precautions have been put in place.

River traffic has been suspended, given that certain types of boats can no longer safely pass under the Seine's historic bridges.

Starting on Tuesday, the RER-C, a major commuter rail line that follows the riverbank, was closed. The official flood emergency level is now "orange", the second-most severe designation.

As usual, the question on the minds of many Parisians is whether this latest deluge will be the "centennial flood" that locals and meteorologists have feared for decades.

This apparently impending catastrophe has been a concern since January 1910, when - after a similar season of heavy rain - the river's water level suddenly reached about 8.6m above its normal mark.

Almost overnight, the city became a French Venice, its stately avenues and boulevards transformed into makeshift canals while basic infrastructure was destroyed. At the time, the capital was entirely unprepared, and the crisis lasted two months. With the metro shut down, Parisians went about in boats and makeshift wooden walkways. Thousands of others were evacuated.

In the century that has elapsed, there have been some close calls. In 1955, for instance, the river reached 7.1m, and 6.18m in 1982.

Most recently, the Seine flooded in 2016 to a level of about 6.1m, which caused enough anxiety for the Louvre, which is on the banks of the river, to remove some of its artworks in basement storage.

In an era of increased climate change, with global temperatures on the rise, Ms Brossel said that the city expected these abnormal events to become more common.

In general, Parisians measure how bad things are based on how much of the "Zouave" is in the water. On the side of the Pont de l'Alma, a bridge near the Eiffel Tower, the Zouave is a statue of the type of infantry soldier - usually a colonial subject from North Africa - once deployed in French military operations. This one, completed by the sculptor Georges Diebolt in 1856, refers to the Crimean War.

In 1910, the Seine rose all the way to the Zouave's neck. In 2016, the water reached his thighs.

In 2018, it has risen to above his ankles - for now.

WASHINGTON POST

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on January 25, 2018, with the headline 'Parisians fear a repeat of 1910 as Seine rises'. Print Edition | Subscribe