Concern grows in France as deadly flood waters rise

Floods continued to cause havoc in France on Thursday while authorities in Paris are growing increasingly concerned as the River Seine keeps on rising. More rain is on the way.

Concern grows in France as deadly flood waters rise
The centre of Nemours under water. Photos: AFP

The floods in parts of northern France claimed another life on Wednesday when the body of an 86-year-old woman was found in her flooded house in central France.

Her death, which followed that of a toddler in her Burgundy home at the weekend, came as flood waters continued to rise after torrential rain in central and northern France.

Given that more rain is forecast for throughout Thursday the situation is expected to get even worse, not least in Paris where the River Seine continues to rise after breaking its banks earlier in the week.

The French Prime Minister and his Interior Minister Bernard Cazeneuve visited the town of Nemours  – 80 km to the south of Paris, on Thursday which was pretty much under water with the town centre having been completely evacuated.

“In 60 years of living here I have never seen this,” Sylvette Gounaud, a shopworker in Nemours said. “The centre of town is totally under water, all the shops are destroyed.”

There were similar scenes in the nearby town of Montargis where residents were without electricity. 

The government said firefighters had been called out over 10,000 times across the country in recent days and over 5,000 people have had to be evacuated from their homes since last Sunday.

On Thursday red alerts for flooding remained in place in two départements – the Loiret to the south of Paris and Seine-et-Marne to the south and the east.

Several other départements of central and eastern France remained on orange alert for similar reasons.They were Essonne, Indre-et-Loire, Cher, Loir-et-Cher, Indre, Meuse, Meurthe-et-Moselle and Moselle.

In Paris authorities are growing increasingly concerned by the rise of the river Seine, which had risen 4.3 metres higher than usual on Wednesday evening and is expected to top five metres in the coming days.



Parts of the right bank are closed to traffic and river traffic has been halted out of precaution. Bars and restaurants located on or next to the Seine on the left bank have been hurrying to get all their equipment and stock to a safe dry place.

Transport authorities have warned that if water levels rise more than 4.75 metres above normal levels then the RER C train line – parts of which pass along the banks of the River Seine, could be shut down within Paris.

Transilien line N which serves the capital had also succumbed to the flooding.

A crisis cell has been set up in the capital to keep an eye on the river and to prepare for any action if necessary.

Experts say Paris is still a long way from facing the catastrophe of the “flood of the century” – a repeat of the 1910 great flood.

South of Paris, in the town of Montargis, the deluge turned one street into a canal, forcing locals to don boots to wade through the floodwaters.

In France's Loire Valley, a large expanse of water pooled in front of the 16th century Chateau of Chambord, reflecting the much-visited Renaissance castle's image.

Roads remained blocked in many of the affected areas, particularly the Loiret where some 70 roads remained flooded. 
There was no sign of an end to the wet weather just yet with forecasters expecting more rain throughout Thursday.

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Is the French Riviera better equipped to avoid more deadly floods?

Exactly a year after devastating storm killed 10 people the Mediterranean coast of southern France is once again being hit by torrential rain and floods. But has anything improved to avoid more disaster and death?

Is the French Riviera better equipped to avoid more deadly floods?
Storm Alex battered Nice, but the city got away relatively lightly. Photo: ValeryHache / AFP

On October 2nd, 2020, Storm Alex dumped more than 500mm of rain on parts of the Alpes-Maritimes department of southeast France in a matter of hours.

That’s the equivalent of half-a-tonne of rain per square metre over the 10-hour period that the storm battered the area.

Ten people died and dozens of homes were washed away – as were bridges and businesses – as almost a year’s worth of rain caused flash floods and mudslides in the Vésubie, Roya and Tinée valleys, turning the usually gentle rivers into devastating torrents.

Alex and its aftermath was termed a ‘once in a generation’ flood but it was, in fact, the second ‘generational’ weather event in less than a month along the Mediterranean arc, after floods hit the Gard in mid-September. 

In November and then again in December 2019, Cannes and its surroundings were partially inundated. Four years before that, on the night of October 3rd and 4th, 2015, an épisode méditerranéen in an area stretching from Mandelieu to Antibes left 20 dead.

The aftermath of violent storms and floods in Biot, southeastern France, on October 4, 2015. Photo: Jean Christophe Magnenet / AFP

Today, three in five people in France are at risk of a climate-linked natural disaster such as flooding, fire or ground movement – and the risk is worsening.

Global warming has seen disasters double in 20 years, according to United Nations’ figures, while major events – categorised as those that result in 10 or more deaths or €30million in damage – have quadrupled in France over the same period.

This week southern France is once again being hit by a deluge that has forced schools to close and authorities to warn people to stay at home.

Now, residents in areas repeatedly hit by floods in the Alpes-Maritimes are demanding public authorities work to protect them from a threat that hangs over their heads every autumn when weather conditions subject the area around the Mediterranean to unique pressures. 

As global warming increases sea temperatures, so-called épisodes méditerranéens are becoming more intense and more frequent. The Côte d’Azur has no choice but to adapt. So what – if anything – is happening?

Reconstruction work along the Roya river 10 months after Storm Alex devastated the area in October 2020. Photo: Valery Hache / AFP

Property owners who decide to stay are choosing to protect and adapt their homes to the annual threat of floods. One told France Info  radio recently that she recalled being told as a child that furniture in a family friend’s home would be taken through a large trapdoor in the ceiling of a family friend’s home into the roofspace when the nearby river was in flood.

“People lived with the risk,” she said. “You can’t stop water with a wall. It falls from the sky.”

It’s a sentiment that officials are embracing. Valérie Emphoux, director of the flood prevention department of the Sophia-Antipolis agglomeration said: “We must adopt the flooding spirit.”

Those who live near water have to accept flooding as part of life, she added, ‘even if it means seeing it sometimes flow through the garden’.

Meanwhile, authorities routinely write to homeowners whose properties have boundaries with waterways, urging them to take down walls, or other impediments to natural water flow, while also urging those whose properties are crossed by waterways to maintain them properly.

Town planners must also bear part of the blame for the worsening effects of flash floods in an area well used to them. The demand for property in the southeast of the country has prompted a wave of building work.

Tony Damiano, of Avenir 06, which works to promote natural heritage in the department said. “In the last 10 years alone, it’s got worse in terms of urbanisation. The attraction of the Côte d’Azur, the sea, the aura of the area… Prices have increased considerably and all this brings in people for whom the protection of nature is not a priority. It has been sold to the highest bidder.”

In fact, human developments along the PACA coast since the 1960s has done nothing to help the natural flow of rivers to the sea. Roads, railways and buildings – many with underground car parks – block water unnaturally, giving rising waters nowhere else to go than the streets at times of heavy rain.

But it’s not all bad news. The floods of 2015 have prompted action. Where 26 houses once stoodin the hamlet of La Brague, near badly affected Biot, a €10million project will widen the riverbed as part of a ‘rewilding’ of the site to allow the river to flood naturally and safely.

An earlier, similar project, dating back to 2011, had an impact in 2015. The banks of La Brague river were widened and deepened. It helped lower river levels upstream by as much as 50cm. 

Meanwhile, in Cannes-Lerins, €20million has been allocated since 2016 to develop sustainable flood prevention systems. Some 40 homes have been demolished to create a basin to slow down the river. 

“The objective is to slow down floods,” town councillor Michel Tani said.  “Every minute gained allows us to make property and people safe. When the weather is bad, gaining 10 minutes is vital.”