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June 6, 2016


Paris Flood 2016

by soundlandscapes

SEARCH WIKIPEDIA FOR ‘Paris Flood’ and this is what you will most likely find:

“In late January 1910, following months of high rainfall, the Seine River flooded Paris when water pushed upwards from overflowing sewers and subway tunnels, and seeped into basements through fully saturated soil. The waters did not overflow the river’s banks within the city, but flooded Paris through tunnels, sewers, and drains. In neighbouring towns both east and west of the capital, the river rose above its banks and flooded the surrounding terrain directly.”


Fast forward a hundred years or so to the beginning of June 2016 and the question on most Parisians’ minds was: “Will history repeat itself?”


Place Louis Aragon; 4th Arrondissement; June 2016

After a prolonged period of rain last month, the waters of the Seine, Loire and Yonne rivers began to rise alarmingly. In the départements of Loiret and Seine-et-Marne the rivers broke their banks causing what French President, François Holland, described as a “real catastrophe”.

In Paris, the Seine didn’t break its banks but, rising to some 6.3 metres above normal on the night of Friday 3rd June, it came dangerously close.

The sight of dirty brown water and debris floating through the centre of the city was surreal.


Although the Seine didn’t break its banks in the city, the quais on either side of the river were completely flooded giving a clue at least as to what those in the worst affected départements were experiencing.


A five-minute walk from my home, the Seine had completely covered an island jutting out into the river. The Parisian green benches, the skateboard park and the honey farm with its beehives were completely submerged.


A nearby tennis court was looking the worse for wear.


And the péniches (houseboats) had been cast adrift.


On Saturday 4th June the news was that although the water hadn’t fallen, at least it had stopped rising and so, with the photograph of the policemen shown at the beginning of this post standing in front of the Viaduc d’Austerlitz in 1910 in mind, I went to the same place to see what I could find.


Completed in 1904, the Viaduc d’Austerlitz is a 140-metre single-span bridge built to carry the trains of Métro Line 5 over the Seine from the Quai de la Rapée to the Gare d’Austerlitz and back again. With an 8.5 metre wide deck suspended 11 metres above the river the bridge was designed to make it easily navigable for river traffic.

During the recent crisis all river traffic was suspended because the exceptionally high water level made the bridges over the Seine impassable.

Underneath the bridge the quay is usually open to pedestrians and vehicular traffic but on Saturday it was flooded despite a hastily erected barrier being in place.


What does a flood sound like? Would there be a sound-rich raging torrent of water crashing it’s way through the city?

I thought about this as I watched the water rise over several days and I discovered that it didn’t happen like that. There was no raging torrent but instead, an almost silent, inexorable flow of water calmly engulfing everything in its path.

On Saturday, with the floodwater passing by me and the trains of Metro Line 5 passing overhead, I recorded the sounds around the Viaduc d’Austerlitz. It wasn’t the sounds of the vast quantity of ugly brown water flowing along the river that caught my attention but rather the more delicate sounds on the flooded quais.


The Paris flood 2016 around the Viaduc d’Austerlitz:


With a repetition of the catastrophic Paris flood of 1910 avoided, the floodwater is beginning to recede. Water pumps have been drafted in, the clean-up operation has begun and the cost is being estimated somewhere between €600 million and €2 billion.

It’s easy to lament the situation in Paris over the past few days: the flooded quayside bars and restaurants, the péniches cast adrift, the closure of the Louvre and the Musée d’Orsay to move their collections from ground level to higher floors, the occasional power outage and the closure of some Métro stations and part of RER Line ‘C’.

But let’s not forget the 4 dead, at least 24 injured and thousands of residents in towns such as Nemours and Montargis who saw their homes submerged and shop owners left counting the cost as the town centres were inundated by the floods.


6 Comments Post a comment
  1. hmunro
    Jun 6 2016

    Thank you for answering one of the first questions I had when I heard about the flood: “What does that much water sound like?” I, too, had imagined the whoosh and gurgling of an incoming tide — or maybe even the roar of a whitewater rapids. I don’t know why, but I found it almost comforting to hear the sirens in your recording instead, and the rhythmic sound of the métro cars on the rails above, and the voices of a child and her mum, all set to the backdrop of what could be mistaken for a late-spring rain. Life prevails in Paris, once again. Your photos are outstanding, by the way! You’ve really captured the enormity of it. I only hope they were able to relocate the hive on that little island before it completely flooded …

    • Jun 14 2016

      Thank you, Heather and apologies for my late reply.

      I can report that the floodwater has now receded; the tourist boats and the tennis court are back in full operation. Looking at the little island close to my home yesterday it’s almost impossible to imagine that it was completely submerged just a few days ago. And the bees have returned!

      Although the flood was bad in Paris it was nowhere near as bad as it was in the neighbouring towns and villages. They will have to live with the effects for a long time to come.

      • hmunro
        Jun 14 2016

        I’m glad (and a little bit surprised, frankly — given your photos) to hear that the tennis courts are open again and that the tourist boats have resumed their trips down the Seine. What a relief also to hear that the bees are back! But you’re right in pointing out the poor villages and towns, especially downstream. The reports I read were just devastating; I do hope some aid will be forthcoming for those poor folks.

  2. Jun 9 2016

    Absolutely shocking! …Tennis court? What tennis court?…

    • Jun 14 2016

      I’m pleased to report that the tennis court has now resurfaced and it’s back in operation. I watched some people playing on it yesterday!

  3. Jun 13 2016

    ‘Like’ isn’t quite the right response. Thanks for documenting this. I wouldn’t have known anything about it otherwise.


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