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In Paris, the Louvre closes as the Seine rises

Reporters on the Job: Our correspondent gauges the impact of Paris's record rains on runners, tourists, and museum-goers.

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    The high waters of the Seine River in Paris have made it impossible for boats to get under the bridges, shutting down that popular tourist activity.
    Sara Miller Llana/The Christian Science Monitor
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I take a long run along the River Seine to the Eiffel Tower whenever I can. So today I laced up my shoes to assess the riverbanks that are my beloved route.

As I suspected, the paths I usually take were nowhere to be seen. The Seine is at its highest level in more than 30 years.

Tourists who usually aim their cameras up at the Eiffel Tower or Notre Dame today were pointing them down at the roaring river, which is so high that the Louvre shut its doors and the popular Seine River boats are stuck at dock, no longer able to slip under the city’s iconic, arched bridges.

“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.

I assured the family that they saw yesterday Paris's more enjoyable museum – in my opinion: the Musee D’ Orsay. (And they are lucky, as it too closed its doors too to protect its world famous collection of Impressionism.) I helped them come up with a Plan B. But their 19-year-old said she was still disappointed, “to say the least.”

Thwarted tourists are hardly the top priority of France, though – even though amid terrorism threats, strikes, and street marches, this comes as another blow to the city and its reputation.

Several rivers across France, including the Seine, have been placed on "orange alert," meaning flooding remains a risk. French President François Hollande said he will formally declare a “natural disaster,” which will free up emergency funding. Most of the devastation is outside of the capital, and at least two people have died. Some towns in the central part of the country are witnessing their worst floods in more than a century, with 20,000 people evacuated in all. Elsewhere, about a dozen people have died, mostly in Bavaria in neighboring Germany, but also in Belgium and Romania. 

At points this week I’ve felt that the loud patter on our rooftop might never end. Although it has finally stopped raining here in Paris – the river continues to rise, expected to reach its highest point later today, at more than 20 feet. But the rains are not expected to flood the streets or first-floor homes or businesses.

The weather is set to turn ugly again over the weekend, though. This is unusually heavy rainfall – in fact, it’s setting records. But this is also springtime in Paris. It’s usually no drier here than in London. Do you know that? I didn’t before I moved here during another unusually wet spring of 2013. The abundant rainfall that Paris gets is one of its best-kept secrets. 

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