Paris museums move art works as Seine river keeps rising
PARIS - Reuters
REUTERS photoThe Louvre and Orsay museums in Paris moved scores of art works and precious artefacts to safety and soldiers evacuated residents trapped in some of the capital's outlying suburbs as the swollen river Seine hit its highest level in 30 years.
France's environment minister, Segolene Royal, said the Seine had breached 6 metres (19 feet) in central Paris, submerging roads running along the river, swamping small businesses on quaysides and forcing the closure of an underground commuter line.
The worst affected areas lie to the south of the capital. In Villeneuve-Saint-Georges, located near to Paris' Orly airport, soldiers and Red Cross volunteers helped stranded residents as floodwaters rose above knee level. In nearby Corbeil-Essonnes, locals kayaked along streets littered with abandonned cars.
"It's a bit frightening, everything that's happening," said one woman from Marseille who identified herself only as Odile. "Not long ago they ran a flood simulation, how to evacuate museums, residents. And now it's happening for real."
Insurance claims for damaged properties and cars will run into the hundreds of millions of dollars, two consultancy groups said.
Both the Louvre and Orsay museums overlooking the Seine were closed to the public on Friday. In the Louvre, workers stacked dozens of boxes marked fragile and containing valuable statues, vases and art works.
Crates could be seen stacked in corridors, overlooked by classical marble statues.
"For the museums, even if fortunately there isn't any flooding of storerooms as of today, there is an automatic process above 5.50 metres to move works in the deepest storerooms higher," Bruno Julliard, Paris' deputy mayor, told France Inter radio.
The Louvre and the Musee d'Orsay are both home to world-renowned art collections, the former including the celebrated Mona Lisa painting and Venus de Milo statue.
Even as the Seine flooded higher, it remained well below the record high of 8.6 metres reached in 1910, when thousands of Parisians had to flee flooded low-lying areas of the city.
Officials said the river could peak at 6.50 metres later on Friday, and warned flood waters could take several weeks to recede after the wettest May in France for 100 years.
"What's going to be even more painful for the families who have lost their homes, the heads of companies who have lost their businesses, the employees who will be unable to go to work, is that the drop in the water level will be very slow," she said.
The retreating waters could reveal further victims, Royal, the minister, added.