France sees worst rains in 50 years, floods peak in Paris

Floodwaters have reached a peak in Paris and are threatening towns downstream along the rain-engorged Seine River.

Weeks of heavy rains force road closures, engulf scenic embankments and halt riverboat cruises

The banks of Seine River were flooded in Paris on Monday. The river reached a peak in Paris and is now threatening towns downstream. (Michel Euler/Associated Press)

Floodwaters reached a peak in Paris on Monday and were threatening towns downstream along the rain-engorged Seine River as it wound through Normandy toward the English Channel.

Rivers swollen by France's heaviest rains in 50 years have engulfed romantic quays in Paris, swallowed up gardens and roads, and halted riverboat cruises..

The national weather service Meteo France said Monday that January has seen nearly double normal rainfall nationwide.

The floodwaters in Paris have caused a number of closures, including the Louvre Museum's bottom floor, and riverside train stations along the line to Versailles. (Michel Euler/Associated Press)

The national flood monitoring agency Vigicrues said the water levels hit a maximum height of 5.84 metres on the scale on Paris's Austerlitz Bridge early Monday.

That's below initial fears last week and well below record levels of 8.62 metres in 1910, but still several metres above normal levels of about 1.5 metres on the Austerlitz scale.

The waters are expected to stay unusually high for days, possibly weeks.

A photographer takes a picture of a model along the flooded banks of the Seine River in Paris on Saturday. (Thibault Camus/Associated Press)

That's bad news for tourists hoping to cruise past Paris sites on the famed "bateaux mouches" riverboats, or visit the bottom floor of the Louvre Museum, closed since last week as a precaution. Riverside train stations along the line that serves Versailles are also closed, and will remain that way for several more days.

Water laps the underside of historic bridges, and treetops and lampposts poke out of the brown, swirling Seine.

A flooded street lamp and signboards are pictured next to the Seine River on Saturday. (Christophe Ena/Associated Press)
But Paris is better prepared than when it was last hit by heavy flooding in 2016, and people in Paris have largely taken disruptions in stride this time. 

Other towns on the surging Seine have seen it much worse.

The floods have caused damage in 242 towns along the river and tributaries, and are now threatening more towns as the Seine heads downstream west of Paris toward Normandy and the English Channel.

A parking booth is partly submerged in the Seine after days of almost non-stop rain caused flooding in the country. (Gonzalo Fuentes/Reuters)

In Lagny-sur-Marne south of Paris, Serge Pinon now has to walk on a makeshift footbridge to reach his home and its flooded surroundings.

His basement is submerged in water, as are the plants he was trying to grow in a backyard greenhouse tent. He lost a freezer, a refrigerator, a washing machine and dryer to flood waters.

"We're up to the maximum, … and now we're just waiting for it to go down," he said. "This year the flood has risen more rapidly than usual. Here it usually rises in a regular fashion and we have the time to see it coming we can save things. But this time it rose too quickly."

A local resident wearing waterproof pants carries boxed wine down a flooded street on the Seine in Villennes-sur-Seine, west of Paris, on Monday. (Stephane de Sakutin/AFP/Getty Images)

Elsewhere in the town, street signs stick out of the water and a lonely boat floats in the Marne River, once accessible from the riverbank but now unreachable on foot.

Mayor Jean-Paul Michel said that residents are used to seasonal floods, but this one is exceptionally long-lasting, now in its third week. "So it goes on and on, and we think it's going to carry on for (another) long week before the flood starts subsiding," he said. 

French Minister for the Ecological and Inclusive Transition, Nicolas Hulot, standing, left, and mayor of Thomery, Bruno Michel, right, take part in a rescue boat ride through the flooded streets of Thomery, near Fontainebleau, south of Paris, on Monday. (Eric Feferberg/AFP/Getty Images)