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Heavy Rains In Paris Push Seine River Past Its Banks

AILSA CHANG, HOST:

Widespread flooding in France, Germany, and Belgium has forced the evacuation of thousands from their homes. Nearly a dozen people have died. Highways have turned into waterways. And in Paris, the Seine River has overflowed its banks, forcing world-famous museums to close. NPR's Eleanor Beardsley reports.

ELEANOR BEARDSLEY, BYLINE: The Seine River is more than 19 feet above its normal level, and agog Parisians are out taking pictures. One is 65-year-old Dominique Deboisjolie.

DOMINIQUE DEBOISJOLIE: Yes, I've been living here for 30 years, and it's the first time I've seen this. The flood is really serious now. It's becoming very serious, and I live across the bridge and I'm coming to be a bit worried.

BEARDSLEY: Gone are the river's working barges and pleasure boats. Frederic Avierinos has had to close all three of his sightseeing and charter boat companies. He says on a normal day, Paris is the busiest river port in the world, transporting some 8 million people a year.

FREDERIC AVIERINOS: Everything is closed. The whole Paris is closed. I mean, there's - no one is allowed to sail in Paris right now since yesterday because of the currents, because of the fact that the tide is rising and it will keep rising. So it's dangerous. And also because of the height of the bridges. You can't go under the bridges anymore.

BEARDSLEY: The City of Light is on orange alert. The Louvre museum closed its doors to the public Thursday afternoon and activated emergency plans to move precious artwork stored in basement vaults to higher floors. The Musee d'Orsay, with it's vast impressionist collection, did the same. Meteorologists attribute the the torrential rains to a dip in the jet stream that has trapped low-pressure air over much of France and Germany. Thunderstorms have been fierce. Just last weekend, eight children were struck by lightning while under a tree in a Paris park. They all survived. One of the city's principal metro suburban train lines that runs along the Seine was shut down. Rail agents stood outside one of the stations to redirect people. And for the first time in weeks, the news has not been dominated by striking unions and street demonstrations.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW)

UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: (Speaking French).

BEARDSLEY: TV footage shows people canoeing through the main streets of evacuated towns in central France. Waves lap at famous Loire Valley chateaus, and the town of Orleans, where Joan of Arc defeated the English in 1428, was completely cut off, all roads leading into the city deep underwater. In southern Germany, nine people have died, including a fireman who was swept down a drain pipe by raging water. For Parisians, who are already dealing with a terrorist threat and labor strikes, the bad weather and flooding has felt like another blow. And for thousands of tourists, like Shaow Shee, Paris in the springtime is not what they had hoped.

Where are you from?

SHAOW SHEE: I'm from China.

BEARDSLEY: Did you expect Paris to have all this water?

SHEE: No, I absolutely did not. I'm here to see sunshine in the beautiful city, not see it in the water. Now the sky is gray so I'm a little bit disappointed.

BEARDSLEY: In Paris, the rain has stopped, but all eyes are on the river. The Seine is still rising and is expected to reach its peak of 20 feet late Friday afternoon. Eleanor Beardsley, NPR News, Paris. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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