I was walking down the rue du Faubourg Saint-Antoine toward Bastille last night, in the rain, on my last night in Paris, when I spotted this little sign, down near knee height on the corner of the rue de Charonne:
A flood that reaches knee height doesn’t sound that impressive, but this corner is about a kilometre away from the Seine. The flood of 1910 was a terrific disaster, the worst in 250 years. On the map of the area below, the pale blue indicates the area where roadways were flooded; the yellow, areas where basements were flooded. A quarter of the city’s buildings were affected.
The pink area is where the French utility EDF/GDF reckons there’d be fragilisation of the electricity supply if a flood on the same scale hit the city today. The map* is part of the city’s disaster planning, which is extensive. The river height in the city is measured on a scale at the Pont d’Austerlitz: a water level 3.5 metres above the average level would be a yellow alert, 6 metres a red alert–the likely cost of repairing the damage from a flood this bad is estimated at over five billion euros. The 1910 flood peaked at 8.6 metres.
I first read about the flood in this article from the London Review of Books—a review of Jeffrey H. Jackson’s Paris under water, which came out in 2010 to coincide with the centenary. Meanwhile, I got back to Britain after ten days away to find flood warnings across the country for the second time in a month.
The title of this post, by the way, is the motto of the city of Paris: “It floats, nor does it sink”.
*This is a lo-res extract; you can download a large PDF of the full thing from the Paris city council website here. Facts about disaster preparation today were drawn from this 2009 article in Le Figaro.