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French towns swim in floodwaters that are rising in Paris


    A flooded street lamp is pictured next to the river Seine in Paris, Saturday, Jan. 27, 2018. Floodwaters were nearing their peak in Paris on Saturday, with the rain-swollen Seine River engulfing scenic quays and threatening wine cellars and museum basements.

VILLENNES-SUR-SEINE, France >> Floodwaters have transformed the streets of scenic French towns into mucky canals, swallowed up picturesque parks and drained the demand for river boat cruises through Paris.

And the waters are still rising.

Swollen by weeks of heavy rains, the Seine river is expected to reach its peak in the French capital late Sunday or early Monday.

The bottom floor of the Louvre museum, several Parisian parks and riverside train stations were closed as a precaution. Water lapped the underside of historic bridges and engulfed cobblestone quays, where tree tops and lampposts now poke out of the brown, swirling Seine.

Floodwaters have halted boat traffic in Paris, closed roads and schools and prompted the evacuation of hospitals.

But Paris is better prepared than when it was hit by heavy flooding in 2016, and residents have largely taken Sunday’s flood warnings it in stride.

Other towns were not so lucky. More than 240 towns along the Seine and smaller rivers have suffered damage.

“The situation remains more sensitive downstream,” as the high waters from the Seine and its tributaries come together and work their way northwest toward the Atlantic Ocean, Paris regional police chief Michel Delpuech warned.

Instead of cars, swans and canoes occupied thoroughfares Sunday in the town of Villennes-sur-Seine west of Paris.

The ground floors of some buildings were underwater in the center of the town, which has an island in it. Water nearly filled a tunnel, and boots were the footwear of choice for people who hadn’t evacuated to emergency shelters.

“The river is rising slowly, but surely,” resident Christian Petit told The Associated Press. “The residents have the experience of floods so they organize. There is a lot of solidarity.”

Petit and his neighbors complained that electricity and gas providers had shut off supplies to the town as a safety measure, effectively forcing people to evacuate instead of staying to protect their houses.

Christine Hanon-Batiot, a town council member in charge of environment, said the river level was 5.3 meters (17.4 feet) above normal in Villennes-sur-Seine.

“The people who live here are fortunate enough to live on the Seine river and have water next to them, but then the risk is that the water rises,” she said.

In Paris, cruise boat companies suffered losses because of a ban on river traffic due to the high, fast waters on the Seine. Paris police fined people who took a canoe Saturday into the river and gave stern warnings to others.

Paris Mayor Anne Hidalgo tweeted Sunday that “the situation is relatively under control,” but she urged vigilance and changes to city planning to adapt to an increasing number of extreme weather events.

Meteorological authorities forecast the Seine’s levels to peak in Paris late Sunday or early Monday at around 5.9 meters (19 feet, 4 inches) on the Austerlitz scale. That’s below record levels, but still several meters (feet) above normal.

Even after its peak, however, river levels are expected to remain exceptionally high for days.

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