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LOUVRE

Louvre and Musée d’Orsay close as waters rise in Paris

The Louvre and the Musée d'Orsay on the banks of the River Seine in Paris have been forced to close in order to evacuate artworks as flood waters rise.

Louvre and Musée d'Orsay close as waters rise in Paris
Photo: Oliver Gee

Two famous Paris museums were preparing for the worst on Thursday as the French capital held its breath over how high the flood waters of the Seine would reach.

With emergency flood barriers already being put in place along the river Seine after days of torrential rain, the Musée d'Orsay said it was closing early on Thursday as a precautionary measure.

Meanwhile the Louvre, which had earlier played down the threat of the floods, announced it was closing on Friday to evacuate its reserve artworks stored underground. 

It's more famous artworks like the Mona Lisa will not for the moment have to be moved.

River levels are set to reach a peak at around Midday on Friday with flood levels predicted to hit 6 metres.

A statement from the Louvre said that museum bosses had decided to put in place their emergency action plan after flood levels hit 5.08 metres (above the normal level of the Seine).

“The objective is to take the works stored underground and put them in the higher floors. The Louvre staff have begun this operation.”

As part of the Louvre's emergency plan the museum has 72 hours to get works held in their underground reserves to safety while the Musee d'Orsay has 96 hours.

Both institutions have organised drills this year to deal with floods.

(The Musee d'Orsay, pre-flooding. AFP)

In one such exercise in March, the Louvre evacuated the whole of the underground section of its new Islamic art galleries in a day.

The museum, which has vast underground stores, said it is equipped with anti-flooding pumps and watertight doors.

The Musée d'Orsay, which holds the world's greatest collection of Impressionist masterpieces, had earlier said it was putting in place a “protection plan” before closing early at 6pm.

Its galleries hold some of the finest paintings by Renoir, Manet, Van Gogh and Degas, as well as 24 works by Gauguin.

The museum said a crisis management team had been put in place to organise the moving of its most vulnerable treasures to its upper floors if the Seine rises more than 5.5 metres (18 feet).

It's not just museums in Paris that have been affected by flooding. The image below shows the chateau de Chambord in the Loire Valley surrounded by flood waters.

The floods have already prompted transport authorities to close a section of the RER C commuter line and several train stations, meaning more misery for strike hit commuters.

IN PICS: See just how high the River Seine in Paris is

 

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WEATHER

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.”

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