By Paul Homewood
The slowly sinking ‘Le Zouave’ statue, often used as a marker for the level of the Seine.
Fortunately, river levels on the Seine now appear to be receding. The Telegraph report that they peaked at 6.10 meters early this morning, the highest for three decades.
The “Le Zouave” statue next to the Pont de l’Alma is a good comparator for earlier floods, and this one was certainly well down on the infamous flood of 1910:
Pont de l’Alma
You can just make out the head of the statue next to the central arch.
The BBC provide this useful picture:
As mentioned above, the current event did not quite reach the expected level of 6.30.
According to Wikipedia:
The bridge serves as a measuring instrument for water levels in times of flooding on the Seine: access to the footpaths by the river embankments usually is closed when the Seine’s level reaches the feet of the Zouave; when the water hits his thighs, the river is unnavigable. During the great flood of the Seine in 1910, the level reached his shoulders. The French Civil Service uses the Pont de la Tournelle, not the Pont de l’Alma, to gauge flood levels.
The Guardian published this account of the 1910 floods on the centenary:
The summer had been wet, the winter even wetter, and bedraggled Parisians entered 1910 beneath an ominously heavy sky of gunmetal grey. At least, they thought, scurrying around the burgeoning Métro network of the self-anointed capital of modernity, it couldn’t get any worse. They were wrong. It got worse than they could have ever imagined.
The latter half of January brought torrential downpours and, already swollen, the river Seine burst its banks. Streets were inundated. Homes were under water. Paris had seen in the century showcasing man’s loftiest achievements and technological advances at the Universal Exhibition, but just 10 years later the city was brought to her knees by an old foe, Mother Nature.
Tomorrow, a century later, an exhibition at the Historical Library of Paris (BHVP) is taking people back in time to the month when the City of Light was plunged into darkness.
More than 200 documents, including photographs, postcards, maps and newspapers, are on show as part of an unprecedented attempt to chart the progress of the Great Flood.
The stark images show some of the city’s best-known areas submerged and its bewildered inhabitants making their way down the boulevards in rowing boats. An interactive database allows visitors to make a virtual tour of some 300 streets that were flooded.
One piece of early film footage shows parts of the Champs Elysées with just the treetops visible.
One witness at the time described the scene: “Crowds had gathered on the embankments, admiring the headlong rush of the silent yellow river that carried with it logs and barrels, broken furniture, the carcasses of animals, and perhaps sometimes a corpse, all racing madly to the sea; they had watched cranes, great piles of stones, and the roofs of sheds emerge momentarily from the flooded wharves and then vanish in the swirl of the rising water.”
An episode as dramatic as it was brief, the flood receded in the collective memory of Parisians as the horrors of the first world war unfolded.
But historians believe it deserves to be remembered. With 20,000 buildings wrecked within days and 200,000 people made homeless, the deluge brought devastation to the city on a scale not seen for centuries.
According to measurements taken at the Quai de la Tournelle, the Seine reached 8.5 metres, the highest seen since 1658. Of Paris’s 20 arrondissements, 12 were flooded. The total cost of the damage was estimated at 400m francs d’or – a sum the BHVP reckons is roughly equivalent in today’s money to over €1bn (£900m).
British Pathe also have some fascinating of the 1955 floods:
Although the 1910 flood is by far the worst in recent times, apparently the 1658 one was even worse, according to this report by the OECD:
1924 and 1955 also saw major flood events in the Paris region and in the entire Seine basin. Nevertheless, the lack of a significant flood for more than 60 years tends to lessen the memory of risk. Seine floods are characterised by their slow progression and, following on a period of submersion which may be very long. For instance, the waters took almost two months to subside in 1910. Even if the effect of climate change on the frequency and extent of the Seine floods is still uncertain, greater floods than the one of 1910 are still possible, such as the one that occurred in 1658.