PARIS - The Seine River peaked early Saturday around Paris, hitting its highest level in nearly 35 years — almost 4.5 metres (15 feet) above average — and authorities warned it could take up to ten days for the river to return to normal.
And it will take at least four days before tourists in the French capital once again get a chance to view art at the world-class Louvre museum, where curators were scrambling to move 250,000 artworks upstairs, away from basement storage areas at risk of flooding.
The Louvre, home to Leonardo da Vinci's "Mona Lisa," said it won't reopen until Wednesday, while the Orsay Museum, known for its impressionist art, was closed at least through the weekend. Other Paris landmarks shut down due to flooding include the national library and the Grand Palais, Paris' striking glass-and-steel topped exhibition centre.
Nearly a week of heavy rain has led to serious flooding across parts of France, Germany, Romania and Belgium.
The death toll from French flooding rose to four, with 24 others injured, French Prime Minister Manuel Valls said Saturday after a government crisis centre meeting. He didn't elaborate, but that brings the total death toll across Europe from two weeks of flooding to 18.
Valls said the water level of the Seine is now decreasing "slowly but steadily" in Paris and said several ministerial meetings next week will make sure quick financial help is provided to those affected.
He also urged Paris visitors and residents alike to "to observe safety precautions" since many have been walking along the Seine's overflowing banks to observe the rare phenomena.
Even as the waters start to recede in Paris, transportation problems remain. Several train and subway stations were shut down in the city centre due to the flooding and Paris drivers still faced major problems due to flooded roads. The French energy company Enedis said over 17,000 homes were still without electricity Saturday in the Paris region and central France.
One of the Seine's tributaries had not seen water levels this high since 1910, when the Great Flood of Paris swamped the capital.
France's meteorological service said Saturday that high flood alerts remained in effect in 14 regions, mostly in central and western France, including Paris. Although the rain has tapered off in some areas, possible floods were expected over the weekend downstream along the Seine in the region of Normandy.
Boats and barges docked in Paris were being carefully watched to ensure none would cast off their moorings. Nicolas Hainsohn, a boathouse resident on the Seine, said the situation was usual but added "it's just water."
"We are used to this. We've seen it once or twice," he told The Associated Press. "It's tricky to dock, because you need to follow the water flow, you have to be careful, otherwise you can hit the river bank."
Mstyslav Chernov contributed to the story.