Fears are growing of serious flooding in Paris as the European football championship approaches, despite official assurances that all should be well.
As scores of towns to the east and south of Paris suffer their worst flooding for decades, the river Seine is expected to rise well above its “preliminary” alert level of five metres by Friday.
The Seine quays are already awash. A popular island near the Eiffel Tower is under water. Pleasure launches and commercial barges have been banned from passing through the French capital. A motorway slip-road in eastern Paris was unundated this morning and a suburban railway line which hugs the left bank of the Seine, RER C, is likely to be closed tomorrow
François Duquesne, head of Vigicrues, the agency that monitors water levels in France, said today: “The Seine is still rising but we are far from the 8.5 metres recorded in 1910 (when large areas of the capital were flooded for 45 days). We should see a rise to a peak of around 5.6 metres overnight.”
The flood alert level in Paris has been raised to yellow, the third highest. One department [county] just east of Paris, Seine-et-Marne, is on “red alert”, the highest level. Several other departments within the Seine catchment area are at the second highest alert level, orange.
Other experts warned, however, that the weather and flood levels remained unpredictable, a week before the Euro 2016 national football tournament begins in Paris next Friday. A giant “fan zone”, capable of hosting up to 100,000 people has been built on the Champ de Mars beside the Eiffel Tower close to the river.
Flooding approaching the 1910 levels would put the fan zone under water.
The floods in other parts of northern France claimed a second victim overnight when the body of an 86-year-old woman was found in her home. A toddler drowned in Burgundy last weekend.
Prime Minister, Manuel Valls and interior minister Bernard Cazeneuve today visited Nemours, 80 kilometres (50 miles) south of Paris, which has been completely evacuated.
President Francois Hollande declared a “natural catstrophe”.
“In 60 years of living here I have never seen this,” Sylvette Gounaud, a shopworker in the town, said. “The centre of town is totally under water, all the shops are destroyed.”
The main A10 motorway from Paris to the south west remains flooded north of Orléans. On Wednesday, 650 motorists and truckers were stranded after the motorway turned into a river. Amphibious army trucks were sent to rescue them.
In a diagonal band of territory from the Bay of Biscay to the Belgian border, rainfall in the month of May was two and a half times the normal level.
A catastrophic Paris flood is overdue. The last occurred in 1910 and the city has been flooded by the Seine on average once a century.
The latest weather forecasts suggest that a spell of drier weather should begin this weekend.
The bad weather has added to disruption caused by a series of strikes which began last week but the industrial action appeared to be weakening yesterday. Air traffic controllers abandoned a planned three day stike over the weekend. An indefinite rail strike entered its second day but one of the three union federations involved pulled out.
A partial strike on the Paris Metro had no significant effect on services. Strikes at nuclear power stations caused electricity cuts in some areas.
The industrial action is partly linked to a confrontation between militant unions and the government over reform of unemployment law. Rail and aviation unions also have their own specific grievances.
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