Locals and travelers in France are coping with dual disasters
On Thursday afternoon, after days of heavy rain across France and many other parts of Europe, the Seine River jumped its banks in record-setting fashion and floodwaters forced curators at the Louvre and Orsay museums to begin evacuating art. At the Louvre, home to the Mona Lisa and other iconic works, pieces in subterranean storage were moved to higher floors. At the Orsay, which specializes in impressionism, pieces were moved to an offsite facility.
The lead in a Washington Post report about the flooding said it best: “The self-styled fountain of world civilization has begun to overflow.” And the situation isn’t over. Rain is predicted to continue through the weekend, and experts said the water level of the Seine would reach 18.4 feet by the end of the day today. (In case you’re wondering, the worst flood in Paris history was in 1910, when the Seine rose 60 feet and parts of the city were underwater for 45 days.) And the damage certainly isn’t restricted to Paris. Two people in the French countryside have died, prompting France’s president, François Hollande, to declare a state of emergency. Germany, too, has seen torrential rains which have cut power to thousands of homes and caused 9 deaths.
As if natural disasters weren’t enough, Thursday also saw more than 100 flights across Europe cancelled and many others delayed due to a strike by French air traffic controllers. French rail services also were affected by the strike—part of a union action against proposed government changes to the country’s labor laws that would make it easier to hire and fire employees.
The situation could get worse. A report in The Guardian said that Hollande has rejected demands from CGT (the striking union) that he scrap a bill to give companies more freedom to negotiate in-house deals on pay and conditions.
What’s more, the floods and transit disruptions stand to have significant impact on tourism. Matches at the French Open have already been postponed, and France expects 2.5 million spectators next week for the Euro 2016 soccer tournament. A giant “fan zone,” capable of hosting up to 100,000 people, has been built on the Champ de Mars beside the Eiffel Tower, close to the river, and according to a report in The Independent, flooding could threaten this area too if waters rise to 1910 levels.
In the face of these unexpected developments, travelers heading to France should be diligent about checking flights and confirming transportation options on the ground. It also helps to follow the news; at last check, experts said they think the strike will fizzle shortly, and the latest weather forecasts suggest that a spell of drier weather should begin soon.
Matt Villano is a freelance writer and editor based in Healdsburg, California. In more than 18 years as a full-time freelancer, he has covered travel for publications including TIME, the Wall Street Journal, the New York Times, Sunset, Backpacker, Alaska Airlines, and more. He is a senior editor for the Expedia Viewfinder blog and writes a monthly food column for Islands magazine. Villano also serves on the board of the Family Travel Association and blogs about family travel at Wandering Pod. Learn more about him at Whalehead.com.