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Flooding in France: The worst may be over

On Saturday, the water level of the Seine river in Paris slowly started to decrease after reaching its peak overnight. The death toll from the flooding in France has risen to four, officials say.

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    View of the flooded banks of the river Seine in front of the Eiffel tower in Paris, Friday, June 3, 2016. Both the Louvre and Orsay museums were closed as the Seine, which officials said was at its highest level in nearly 35 years, was expected to peak sometime later Friday.
    (AP Photo/Christophe Ena)
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The death toll from the flooding in France has risen to four, officials said Saturday, as the water level of the Seine river in Paris slowly started to decrease after reaching its peak overnight.

But authorities warned it could take up to ten days for the river to return to normal after swelling to its highest level in nearly 35 years, about 4.5 meters (15 feet) above average.

The death toll from the flooding across the country has risen to four while 24 people have been injured, French Prime Minister Manuel Valls said after a meeting at a government crisis center Saturday.

He didn't give any more details about the additional death, which brings the total death toll across Europe from the flooding in recent days to 17.

Valls said the water level of the Seine is now decreasing "slowly but steadily" in Paris and that several ministerial meetings will be held next week to ensure quick financial help to the people affected.

He also urged Paris visitors and residents to "take care to observe safety precautions" since many have been walking along the river banks to observe the rare phenomena.

Nearly a week of heavy rain led to serious flooding across parts of France, Germany, Romania and Belgium. In parts of Germany, Syrian refugees helped with the clean up

"We know what it means to live in a crisis area and to lose your home," Syrian Naja Al Hassas told the Deutsche Presse-Agentur, as he assisted with clean-up in In the German town of Simbach am Inn.

"[W]e've gotten so much help from the people in Simbach, now we can give something back and that's good," said Mouath, another of 25 Syrians helping to clear away rubble in the Bavarian town near the Austrian border.

French energy company Enedis said over 17,000 homes were still without electricity Saturday in the Paris region and central France.

Authorities have shut the Louvre museum, the national library, the Orsay museum and the Grand Palais, Paris' striking glass-and-steel topped exhibition center.

The Louvre, home to Leonardo da Vinci's "Mona Lisa," said it won't reopen until Wednesday. Curators were scrambling to move some 250,000 artworks from basement storage areas at risk of flooding to safer areas upstairs.

Tourists were disappointed, as The Christian Science Monitor reported:

“What?” said Tom Haack, from Huntingdon, Calif., as he approached the Louvre’s empty entranceway and learned that the museum shut down to protect its precious masterpieces. About 250,000 works are held in rooms that could be vulnerable to flooding.

The Haack family saved the museum for their last day in Paris, intending to sneak a peak at the Mona Lisa, as just about every first-time visitor here does. (The museum has said she is safe and dry, housed on an upper floor of the museum.)

In fact, Louvre Director Jean-Luc Martinez said no artwork was in immediate danger, but that staff needed 72 hours to evacuate all of the art. That meant that tourists, including the Haacks, who were hoping the venerable institution might be opened by day’s end had their hopes dashed instead.

The Orsay Museum, known for its impressionist art, closed through the weekend.

Several railway and subway stations shut down in Paris city center and drivers experienced traffic problems in and around the French capital because of flooded roads.

Valls said authorities have "no major concern" any more regarding other rail and subway services, yet boats and barges docked in the capital were being carefully watched to ensure none would cast off their moorings.

Nicolas Hainsohn, resident of a boathouse on the Seine, said the situation was exceptional but added that "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."

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 river, in the region of Normandy.

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AP Journalist Mstyslav Chernov contributed to the story.

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