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Parts Of Paris And Northern France Flooded After Unusually Heavy Rains


After a month of record rainfall in France, rivers have overflowed their banks and nearly half the country is under flood alert. In Paris, the river Seine is 19 feet above its normal level. Some roads are completely underwater, and part of the metro, the city's subway system, is shut down.

NPR's Eleanor Beardsley joins us from Paris. And, Eleanor, are you keeping dry? What does the city look like right now?

ELEANOR BEARDSLEY, BYLINE: Ari, I'm keeping dry because I've put on my rain boots. Yes, the city is underwater in a lot of places. I live near the Seine River and I walked down there today. And there's a busy road that goes along the Seine. It is gone. You can only see the tops of some of the traffic signs. And, you know, a place where I walk usually on the shore by all the houseboats, the quay, it's completely underwater, too. And there are swans swimming there.

SHAPIRO: So what happened to the people who live in the houseboats?

BEARDSLEY: Well, they are having, you know, a very difficult time because they're usually more to the shore and there is no shore anymore. And, you know, they've been all over the news. And their biggest fear is to be deposited on the shore when the waters recede. So listen to Wilfied Legendre, who lives on a houseboat. This is what he says.

WILFIED LEGENDRE: (Speaking French).

BEARDSLEY: So he says they're all helping each other. They've not gone to their jobs these last few days. They're helping each other to keep their boats from crashing and - you know, into each other. And also, he says you have to follow the water, like, every three hours and just make sure you're with it and you're not going to be left on the shore when it recedes.

SHAPIRO: Wow. France has obviously had a lot of rain. Are there other reasons that this flooding is especially bad?

BEARDSLEY: Yes, Ari. Over-construction, you know, too much concrete. And also, industrial farming. They're saying that not rotating crops is not a good thing because the soil is less porous. And also, fields are bigger, so you don't have the little borders with the woodlands that help absorb water.

SHAPIRO: How unusual is this kind of flooding for Paris?

BEARDSLEY: Well, actually, Ari, there was a big flood 18 months ago. And that's why people are a little bit alarmed. And everyone's been watching the water rise on this one, saying, will it get as high as the flood in 2016, which came up to 20 feet above normal, the Seine River. They're predicting that it will stop at around 19 feet and 6 inches. So it's not going to be as high. The big flood, Ari, was in 1910. The Seine River came up 28 feet. And there's markers all over the city for it. It - on my street, there's one. It's about up to my waist. I can't even imagine the water coming, you know, all the way up there. But the museums were ready with emergency flood plans. The Louvre closed its first floor, and other museums have enacted emergency flood plans.

SHAPIRO: Eleanor, we think about cities that might be permanently altered or wiped out by climate change, people often talk about Miami, Mumbai. Should Paris be on that list?

BEARDSLEY: Well, people are alarmed that this happened twice in 18 months. And it really - you know, if the first floor of a building gets flooded, you have to shut down the electricity. There's so many things that just get ruined in water. And, yeah, I think cities like Paris need to worry now. People are talking about changing the way they build, changing the way they live to be prepared if this happens again.

SHAPIRO: Is the sun out today? Have you seen the worst of it?

BEARDSLEY: The sun is out today. And I think that meteorologists are saying we've seen the worst of it. The water will peak tomorrow. It's not going to be as bad as 2016, but it's going to take a while for the water to recede because all of the lakes and reservoirs are full.

SHAPIRO: NPR's Eleanor Beardsley in Paris, thank you.

BEARDSLEY: Thank you, Ari.


Eleanor Beardsley began reporting from France for NPR in 2004 as a freelance journalist, following all aspects of French society, politics, economics, culture and gastronomy. Since then, she has steadily worked her way to becoming an integral part of the NPR Europe reporting team.