Paris’ iconic Louvre museum halted entries on Thursday and will be closed to the public on Friday to allow priceless artworks to be removed if the swollen river Seine keeps rising, according to an internal email to staff.
“The museum will remain closed to the public tomorrow out of precaution: there is no danger to the public or our staff but will allow us to calmly remove certain art collections should it be necessary,” the email, seen by Reuters, stated.
After days of torrential rains, the French government has issued an orange alert for central Paris, with the Seine’s water level bursting through five metres. Its record high was 8.60 meters during the devastating floods of 1910.
A week of storms has killed nine people across northern Europe, submerged streets, closed schools and left people stranded on rooftops.
Eight people have died in Germany and six days of heavy rain in France forced the evacuation of thousands of people in riverside towns south of Paris and in the Loire valley.
The body of an 86-year-old woman was found in her flooded house in Souppes-sur-Loing in central France, where some towns have been hit by the worst flooding in more than 100 years.
In the small town of Montargis, the water had risen so high that only the roofs of cars could be seen above the surface along the high street.
Rescue workers have responded to about 10,000 calls and evacuated more than 5,000 people since the weekend.
“The situation remains tense and difficult in several areas. We still have many concerns,” said the French prime minister, Manuel Valls, as he visited a crisis control centre in the flooded town of Nemours, south of Paris.
Residents were evacuated after the Loing river burst its banks and submerged the high street. Rescuers had to use dinghies to reach stranded residents in streets turned into rivers.
“In 60 years of living here I have never seen this,” Sylvette Gounaud, a shopworker, said. “The centre of town is totally under water, all the shops are destroyed.”
In southern Germany, dangerously swollen rivers have killed several people and severely damaged Bavarian towns.
Rescue workers found the bodies of three people in a house in Simbach am Inn on Wednesday and police warned that several other people were missing.
The force of the water upended cars and washed away parts of the streets; a thick layer of mud was left throughout the town by the subsiding water. Huge piles of wood and rubbish deposited by the torrent were visible next to badly damaged homes and offices.
A woman’s body was discovered caught on a tree trunk in the neighbouring town of Julbach, police said.
On Germany’s south-eastern border with Austria, some residents scrambled onto rooftops to escape the waters on Tuesday.
“The floods came so quickly that people had to escape to the roofs of their houses,” a spokesman for the lower Bavaria police said.
The outbreak of severe weather began at the weekend with lightning strikes that left several people, including children, injured in Paris and western Germany.
Forecaster Meteo France described the situation as “exceptional, worse than the floods of 1910”, when even central Paris was flooded.
In the centre of the capital, the swollen Seine flooded paths normally used by tourists and washed around a replica of the Statue of Liberty.
Authorities were particularly concerned about the rising waters in Longjumeau, 16 miles (25km) south of Paris, where about 200 people spent the night in a gymnasium after being evacuated, and Valls said at least 2,000 more people need to be moved from their homes in the town.
In the Loire valley, a lake of flood water gathered in front of the Château de Chambord, causing a watery reflection of the much-visited 16th-century castle.
The surrounding Loiret region has had six weeks’ rainfall in three days.
The French Open tennis got back on track Wednesday after rain washed out play in Paris earlier in the week, but players hoping to reach the finals face a heavy schedule of matches.
Waters have receded in Austria, where schools and roads were flooded in recent days.